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Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent 1: Characters of Christmas: Zechariah

Almighty God, who sent Your servant John the Baptist to prepare Your people for the coming of Your Son: inspire the ministers and stewards of Your truth to turn our disobedient hearts to the law of love; that when He comes again in glory, we may stand with confidence before Him as our judge; who is alive and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Advent marks both a beginning and an end. It begins the church year as a season of preparation for
all the festivities that surround the commemoration of Christ’s birth. More significantly, Advent also
anticipates Christ’s coming again in glory. The theologian Paul Tillich once preached that “our
time is a time of waiting … waiting for the breaking in of eternity.  All time runs forward. All time,
both history and in personal life, is expectation.

Advent is a season of longing, waiting expectantly for eternity—for the fullness of the reign of God to break in......and there is a very real sense in which the fullness of the reign of God broke in upon Zechariah; a righteous, elderly, long-married priest who had had no children.  An angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appears to him in the Temple of the Lord.

As a priest in the Temple, Zechariah was a minister of God, working in the Temple, managing its upkeep, teaching people the Scriptures, and directing the worship services.  At this time, there were about 20 000 priests throughout the country.  Priests were divided into 24 separate groups of about 1000 each (according to David’s instructions in 1 Chronicles 24:3-17.)  Zechariah was a member of the division of Abijah.  Each division served in the Jerusalem Temple twice each year for one week.  Each morning one of the priests would enter the Holy place in the Temple to burn incense, which was burned twice daily.  Lots were cast to decide who would enter the sanctuary, and one day during the week, Zechariah was chosen.  Offering incense before the Lord was considered a great privilege.  A priest was allowed to do so only once in his lifetime, so many priests never had the opportunity.  But it was not by chance that Zechariah was on duty and that he was chosen that day to enter the Holy Place.

It is not by chance that you are here, today, at the start of Advent 2013.

An angel of the Lord appears and gives Zechariah a message from the Lord.  Now, angels are powerful beings, certainly awesome in their appearance and no wonder Zechariah was afraid,......so the angels first words to him are, “Don’t be afraid.

Now, while Zechariah had been burning incense, he would have been praying, most likely for Israel’s deliverance and for the coming of the Messiah, and the angel’s words must have astounded him: “God has heard your prayer.”  And he no doubt thinks, “Wow, at last God is going to send His Messiah” but the angel says, “Your wife will bear you a son.”  God in fact had heard both his prayers (and of course, all his prayers), because we know He was preparing the way for Jesus, and He was giving Zechariah a son who would play an important role in that.

And Zechariah is faced with a choice……to believe that, in their old age, he and his wife will have a child, or to doubt……"Hmmm.................., that’s not really possible, we are too old."  He chooses to doubt, which is such a pity, because, while it doesn't stop God from fulfilling His promise, his doubt makes his life miserable,...............he can’t speak or hear until 8 days after his child is born – at least 10 months later.

What does Zechariah, our first character of Christmas, teach us as we enter Advent 2013?

3 things:

1. Many of us are afraid.  We live in scary times. The news this week has reminded us that it's dangerous and scary to be a baby in S.A. ……it’s dangerous to be a woman in S.A. as the 16 days of Activism campaign reminds us.....
...some might even feel it’s dangerous to drive around some of our shopping centers where mafia hits have taken place recently……this week we heard that economic growth in our country is at its lowest since the 2008 worldwide recession and the prospect of an improvement in 2014 is poor……scary times.

Just as He said to Zechariah, the Lord says through his Word (365 times!) to us: “Don’t be afraid.”  I think there’s a sense in which He says, “You don’t need to be afraid……not because I’m going to take all the scary things away……but rather you don’t need to be afraid because I am with you……I am with you.

2. Just as He sad to Zechariah, He says to us: “I have heard your prayers”.......I really hope that this truth will bring you hope and comfort, in the Advent season of hope and comfort....Our LORD has heard, hears and will hear, every one of your prayers.

and finally……

3. Zechariah chose to doubt……let us choose to believe.
Believe that, just as Zechariah wasn't in the Holy Place by accident that day,……so too you aren't here in this place, celebrating Advent this day, by accident.
Believe that God wants you to hear that you need not be afraid.
Believe that He wants you to hear and to know that He has heard your prayers.

Choose today, choose this Advent season, to believe, rather than to doubt.

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