Take Jesus Home 1
We are getting ready for the baby. Every year we turn our attention to the birth of Jesus. God come into this world as a human. God in the flesh. God as a newborn. I hope you are always astonished to remember that God Almighty came in the form of a baby. That is at the heart of Christmas.
We not only want to celebrate, honor and worship him here but we want to take him home. We don’t want to just leave Jesus here but we want the baby to make a difference in our lives. We want the child to influence us.
When you take a baby home your whole life gets turned upside down, doesn’t it? Everything changes. Priorities are altered. You begin to live on a different time schedule. You spend your energy in totally different ways. Your life is not your own.
Children mess with your life. They make you think about different things and things differently.
How many of us became softer, more mature, deeper, and had our total perspective on life changed when we brought our first child home?
We want to take Jesus home this Advent and Christmas. By taking Jesus home we mean we want Jesus to be honored in our homes, in our school, at work, in our lives and everywhere we go. When you walk out of this place I hope you have Jesus in your mind, in your heart, in your whole being. We want him to mess up our neat little lives, or neaten up our messy lives, and put the course of our life on a different direction.
Luke is one of two gospel writers who tell us about the birth of Jesus. The other is Matthew, but Luke tells us the most.
When we think of the Christmas story we know about Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds, and the wise men. In our Christmas plays we even think of the inn keeper and he isn’t even in the biblical story. Did you know that? You might want to read it for yourself.
We have these figures on our Christmas cards and they are hanging as ornaments on our trees. But there is a lot more to the story of Christ’s birth than just these. I want us to hear the full story.
For one, as we heard this morning, there is the old priest Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth who were the parents of John the Baptist who was the forerunner to Christ. Why don’t Zechariah and Elizabeth get any love at Christmas? They have a place in the story – a huge part of the story. Why aren’t they on our Christmas cards and in our children’s programs. It is Zechariah, Elizabeth who set up the coming of the baby.
But first, they have their own baby. Luke says, “I want to tell you about the birth of Christ, but we need to start here.” Before any decrees go out from Caesar Augustus, before Mary and Joseph know anything is going to happen to them, way before angels start swirling around shepherds heads, we need to start with a vision that Zechariah had in the temple.
Zechariah was a priest in the service of the Jewish Temple.
One thousand years before this time King David had organized the descendants of Aaron, who was the brother of Moses, into twenty-four different orders of priests to serve at the temple in Jerusalem. The eighth order came from a priest named Abijah, and that was the order Zechariah belonged to.
Every order had to do service in the temple in Jerusalem twice a year for one-week a year. Their job was to keep the grounds and worship areas, to perform the sacrifices, and to lead the morning and evening prayers. It is estimated that there were between eighteen and twenty-thousand priests in the first century in Jerusalem.
Since the time of Aaron a priest would go into the temple, into a room called the Holy Place. This room was separated from a smaller room called the Holy of Holies which was where the ark of the covenant rested, containing the ten commandments and the rod of Aaron. The priest would offer incense and pray for the people of Israel and the coming of the Anointed One of the Lord – the Messiah. The smell and smoke would ascend, symbolic of the prayers rising up to God in heaven. Zechariah had been chosen to enter the sanctuary of the Lord where he would go to the altar and offer incense and pray for the people of Israel. The burning of incense was done every morning and evening.
It was a high and special privilege to get to enter the Holy Place and pray on behalf of the people. On this occasion Zechariah was chosen.
We also get the impression that Zechariah has been praying to the Lord for he and Elizabeth to have a child. As Zechariah is praying the angel of the Lord, Gabriel, shows up. A routine, religious act, done twice a day for centuries, becomes a God-filled moment like never before.
Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are going to have a son. His name will be John. He will be great in the sight of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit, turning people’s heart to the Lord, in the power of the great prophet Elijah.
John’s life call will be to prepare the way of the Lord.
This is a big deal and this is why: It says, “[Zechariah and Elizabeth] had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.”
That’s a hard word. There is a coldness, an emptiness, a pain to that word. Deserts are barren. Wastelands are barren. Barren places have nothing there. Every time we drive from Salt Lake City to California we go through Nevada which is…
When something is barren it has no resources. It is unfruitful, unproductive, desolate, often harsh, sterile, and stark. When that is applied to a person, it is harsh. And in these days it was even interpreted as something was wrong between you and God. Not being able to have children, especially if you were a priestly family, raised questions about your faithfulness and standing before God. Although Luke is sure to tell us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But still, Elizabeth was barren.
Even today, many women and couples long to have a child. They go through mental, emotional, physical, and financial agony to do so.
Zechariah and Elizabeth cannot have children and we know it was painful and difficult for them because when Elizabeth eventually conceives she says that the Lord has taken away her disgrace among the people. Luke tells us that this is really where the Christmas event begins.
They are barren and getting on in years. They have too little and it is too late. So why would God use them? Why not find a devout couple who are fertile, have some experience with parenting, are rich and abundant, and no one questions why they don’t have any children.
In her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, the writer, and Presbyterian Christian, Anne Lamott says,
“When God is going to do something wonderful, [God] always starts with a hardship;
when God is going to do something amazing, [God] starts with an impossibility.”
Why does God start with a couple that is too old and barren? Because he is about to do something wonderful and amazing. God is getting ready to enter this world. God is going to break in to the world with something big. He is going to answer the prayers of his people that have gone up for centuries that he would come and deliver them. He is completing what he began with Abraham, what he continued through Moses, and promised to David.
God is ready to move. And he starts out of a place of emptiness, nothingness, and impossibility because he wants to demonstrate and tell all the world that this isn’t going to be a human-thing. This is going to be a God-thing.
The Lord wants to show that he is the Lord who can do the impossible, that nothing is ever too barren for him. No place is too empty. No obstacle is too great. God does it to show his glory. God does it to show his majesty. God wants to show what he can do and who he is.
Luke makes a point of telling us that Elizabeth was barren to stress the human impossibility of what is going to happen.
God starts with barrenness because this is how he has always seemed to work. We’ve seen this childless-couple-barren thing before. When God began to put his plan of putting things back together, he started with an old, childless couple - Abraham and Sarah. And then God blessed Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah, who were also thought to be barren, with children.
When God wanted a people for his own special possession through whom he would work to give glory to his name throughout the earth God took a people in slavery in Egypt, a barren people in a barren place. When he wanted to show them his provision, he led them through a barren place for forty years. When those people ignored and were unfaithful to God they ended up barren and in exile, but God delivered them again.
God told Jeremiah to buy some barren land at Anatoth so he could take a place that seemed hopeless and transform it to give Israel a future and hope.
When Elijah was tired and fried, lying in the middle of the desert, barren of all energy and hope, God gave him the strength to get up and serve him again.
Is it any wonder the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the Messiah to come, thundered these words,
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
The majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”
God starts with barrenness to empty it of all human glory and show his glory. So that we won’t say “we did it”, but “God did it.”
God will start with an impossibility. When we talk about what is impossible we say, “no way”. When we hear something surprising, something that we never could have imagined, something that seems beyond what is possible we say, “no way!”
“I have courtside seats for the Utah Jazz game right next to the bench!” “No way!”
“We just won an all-expense paid trip to Europe.” “No way!”
“Did you hear that Phil picked up the check at dinner.” “No way!”
This Christmas event is about God working in the “no ways” of life: Putting babies in the wombs of women who are too old, and then young girls who are too new. But we will get to Mary, won’t we?
The Lord uses people to work out his plan. He used Abraham and Sarah. He needed Moses. He found David. God chose Zechariah and Elizabeth. He will use Mary and asks for her cooperation.
But God wants to show that he is the one who is doing it. He likes to choose the weak, the abandoned, the outsider to show his glory. God chose the foolish and weak things of the world.
God chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things – the things that are not – to nullify the things that are. That’s 1 Corinthians 1:28
Barren. There is nothing there.
If you are full, beware! You might miss it. But if you find yourself barren, empty, there just isn’t anything there, God can do something. When God gets ready to do something amazing, he starts with an impossibility. If you find yourself in the “no way” zone of life, if you feel like you have no resources, like God couldn’t use you, God may be ready to work.
It’s common to speak of people who are addicts to alcohol or drugs that they have to hit rock bottom before they begin the process of recovery. They have to become barren of all the resources of their lives. And many times, when someone finally hits the bottom, it is then that God does a miracle in their lives.
Or go 180 degrees to the other experience of someone who does it all and has it all. He/she accomplishes great things, walking right up the ladder, gets to the top where there is nothing more to accomplish and say, “this is it?” And they crash because they aren’t any more fulfilled than when they began their climb.
You can’t be saved by God until you realize how empty you really are. I know I couldn’t. We all have to go through this process in one way or another to understand that it isn’t we who save ourselves. Our sin is too deep. The wrong in us is too strong.
I think that’s why God allows or sends crises into our lives sometimes: to reveal to us how weak and empty we really are. He drives us to the end of ourselves. We are in need of something beyond and from outside of us. We need the intervention of God. We see our barrenness so that we can live in his fullness.
And that is exactly what God does with Zechariah and Elizabeth. It’s a “God thing”.
The people waiting outside wonder why Zechariah is taking so long. When Zechariah walks out of the temple, unable to talk, the people who were outside praying and waiting are already beginning to understand that a God-thing is happening. They realized that he had seen a vision. When Elizabeth becomes pregnant she knows it is a God-thing. She doesn’t say, “Look what we’ve done.” No she says, “The Lord has done this for me.”
That’s where we want to be in life. We want to get to a place where we can say, “The Lord has done this for me.”
I was barren and the Lord brought fruit.
I was sick and the Lord healed me.
I was confused and he provided me guidance.
I was empty and he filled me.
I was grieving and he brought be through.
I was in a “no way” place and he did a “no way” thing.
Whatever that empty, hurting, barren spot in your soul is, God can do something there. Maybe it’s like that because he wants you to fill it with him. He wants you to give him your heart. He wants to do a God-thing in your life. He wants to bring the presence and reality of his Son, Jesus. That happens by simply asking him to come and move into your life.
Maybe you’ve never done that. Ask him to come into you today. Then seek him, walk with him, and nurture that relationship. It is life transforming. Not always easy, and maybe even harder.
The reason for the child born to Zechariah and Elizabeth is not just for the sake of their own family life, but to make people ready for the Lord. That is what John the Baptist was going to do. And this is where it begins - getting a people prepared for the Lord.
Be awake. Who knows how he will come to us? Who knows when and how he might break in?