Sunday’s Sermon: Promises by the Bundle

  • Waiting is something with which we are all too familiar.
    • “Little waiting”
      • Waiting in line (grocery store, bank, library, etc.)
      • Waiting for the traffic light to change
      • Waiting for the commercials to be over (TV, radio, online)
    • “Big waiting”
      • Waiting for the birth of a child (or two!)
      • Waiting to head out on your big vacation
      • Waiting for retirement
    • And whether it’s “big waiting” or “little waiting,” it can be really hard to wait. But there are some things can make waiting a little more bearable
      • Story: waiting for Christmas as a little kid – “countdown to Christmas” calendar –> Now, in that instance, the waiting was made easier by the distraction of the chocolates in those little pockets and by the fact that we were counting down to something. There was a definite end to the waiting, and we knew when that would be: December 25, Christmas morning!
    • And here we are this morning in the season of Advent – the season of waiting.
      • Often looked at like our mouse calendar – Advent = countdown to Christmas
        • Count down as we light one Advent candle after another
      • Distractions of all our holiday activities make it easier to wait
        • Christmas cookies? Check.
        • House/tree decorated? Check.
        • Gifts bought and wrapped? Check.
      • But there is a deeper, more profound side to the waiting that we do during Advent, too. We have to remember that we’re waiting for more than just December 25. We’re waiting for the birth of the Messiah – “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[1] There is a deep-rootedness to this waiting. It is a waiting that has been handed down through the ages, waiting for a hope that was spoken of time and again in the promises of the Old Testament in the words of prophets and storytellers alike. It is this ancient anticipation that Zechariah sings about in our passage for this morning, and it is this same ancient anticipation that we ourselves will sing about in our hymn following the sermon – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Because in the face of all this waiting, God sent a tiny, baby-Savior, Jesus the Christ, to fulfill all those particular promises with his own grace upon grace.
  • First promise Zechariah mentions: promise to send the people a deliverer
    • Text: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.[2]
      • Speaks of promise that we see in Ps 18 – describes God as our fortress, our rock, and our deliverer[3]
      • Also see this in Gr of today’s passage – Zechariah describes the role his son will play: you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins –> Gr. “forgiveness” = cancelling, sending away
        • This is more than God just pretending our sins no longer exist. This is God wiping those sins away permanently, removing them entirely, delivering us through the grace of Jesus Christ.
        • Think of the last time you did something you regretted – something you wished you could take back – and had to wait for someone to forgive you –> It wasn’t an easy wait, was it? It wasn’t a comfortable or a pleasant wait. When we’re waiting for forgiveness, we wait in both hope and fear. We wait in love and in uneasiness. We wait in the knowledge of what we’ve done and the yearning for compassion. And all of this is wrapped up in our Advent waiting as we wait for the coming of that Savior-baby, the One in whom we find ultimate forgiveness.
          • This is why we sing: O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Child of God appear. … O come, O shoot of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny, from depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave.[4] –> We wait for the Child of God to free us from the loneliness and isolation that are a product of sin. We wait for that forgiveness that can free us, that forgiveness that can only come from our Emmaunel – from God-with-Us.
  • Zechariah’s second promise: king/son of God raised up from David’s lineage
    • Text: He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.[5]
      • Speaks to promise given to King David by prophet Nathan: When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish his kingdom. … I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.[6] –> I hear power in this promise. I hear the kind of power that can overcome any obstacle. I hear the kind of power that can inspire the songs of angels. I hear the kind of power that can draw together the most unlikely band of travelers – shepherds, magi from the east, and a yet-unwed pair of misfits from Nazareth – in a most unlikely place – a grubby, run-down old stable in the small, insignificant down of Bethlehem.
        • Takes this kind of power to bring people together
        • Takes this kind of power to undertake the ministry Jesus did
          • Constantly spending time with those on the margins
          • Consistently butting heads with those in power
          • Takes this kind of power to bring about our salvation
          • Sing of this power in our hymn: O Come, O Key of David, come, and open wide your heavenly home; make safe the path to endless day, to hell’s destruction close the way.[7] –> Only the Son of God, that key raised up from the line of David, could have the power to defy death itself. It is for this power that we wait. And it is this power that we find in the tenderness and vulnerability of a newborn baby.
  • Another promise mentioned by Zechariah: the savior will be God’s message of love for God’s people –> more subtle message
    • Throughout the Old Testament, there are a number of different references to the “horn of salvation.” –> one such reference = Ezekiel: I will cause a horn to sprout up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.[8]
      • It is through this instrument – this Emmanuel, God-with-Us instrument – that God sings that message of essential love both to us and for us.
    • So in our passage for this morning, we have to read between the lines a little bit. You see, Zechariah speaks of God “looking favorably on his people” and says that “by the tender mercy of God, the dawn from on high will break upon us.”[9] In the Greek, we find this message of love.
      • Gr. “looked favorably on” = “God cared for God’s people” – exact same wording that Mary uses in her song when she says God “looked favorably” on her –> This is that hands-on God showing the people how much they are cared for, how much they are loved, how much the mean to God.
      • Zechariah’s “tender mercy” – Gr. “tender” = literally word for “heart/love/affection” –> show how deep God’s love truly goes
        • This is more than just a superficial affection that Zechariah is describing. This is a love that goes straight to the heart of God. It’s a love that God has for us, and it’s a love that God expresses to us by sending God’s only Son to a people who have been waiting for a long, long time.
          • Sing of this love in our hymn: O come, Desire of Nations, bind all people in one heart and mind; make envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.[10] –> This is the strongest kind of love, the most powerful kind of love – a love that can break down walls between people and mend even the most shattered hearts.
            • Saving love
            • Love born of forgiveness and grace
            • Love that we will find in the face of a newborn baby as he peers out from among the swaddling clothes that keep him warm
  • Final promise Zechariah mentions: great light for the people
    • Familiar OT passage (read on Christmas Eve): The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.[11]
    • To this end, Zechariah sings of how the tender mercy of God will break upon us “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”[12]
      • What this afternoon’s Blue Christmas service gets at –> Sometimes, we find ourselves in dark places in our lives.
        • Darkness from things that have happened to us – loss of loved ones, health crises, financial struggles
        • Darkness from things we’ve done to ourselves – broken relationships, our own shortcomings and mistakes
        • And in the midst of this darkness, all we’re waiting for is a light – a glimpse of the dawn, a glimmer of hope, something to show us that things are going to get better.
          • Find this light in God – psalmist: If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.[13]
          • Given this light in Jesus Christ – John: In the beginning was the Word … in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[14]
          • The Light of Christ – this light for which we have waited, this light which we celebrate every time we light another candle on our Advent wreath – this is a light that is brighter than anything we’ve ever known before.
            • Banish the shadows cast on us by sin
            • Banish the shadows cast on us by the judgments of others
            • Banish even that darkest shadow cast on us by death itself
              • Hymn: O come, O Day-spring, come and cheer our spirits by your advent here; love stir within the womb of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.[15]
  • This time leading up to Christmas tends to be a time of activity and visiting and planning and doing. And we’re already more than halfway through it! The hustle and bustle of the season is in full swing, but in the midst of all of that, Zechariah’s song reminds us that we are also in a season of waiting. We are waiting for a deliverer. We are waiting for the light. We are waiting for one with enough power and yet enough love to banish the darkness from our lives and our hearts forevermore. We are waiting with the echoes of God’s most ancient promises still ringing in our ears. Like Zechariah, we are waiting with those promises tugging on our hearts and springing from our lips in song. We are waiting for that precious, vulnerable, almighty God-with-Us child –the Holy One, Emmanuel, who can take all those ancient promises and gather them up into one amazing, saving bundle of grace. We are waiting for Jesus. Amen.

[1] Lk 2:11 (ESV).

[2] Lk 1:68.

[3] Ps 18:2.

[4] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verses1, 4 in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1995), #116.

[5] Lk 1:69.

[6] 2 Sam 7:12-14 (selective).

[7] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 5.

[8] Ezek 29:21.

[9] Lk 1:68, 78.

[10] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 7.

[11] Is 9:2.

[12] Lk 1:79.

[13] Ps 139:11-12.

[14] Jn 1:1, 4-5.

[15] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 6.

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