Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sermon: Luke 1:1-25 The True Story of a Special Child

This morning we’re celebrating with the McNeills, giving thanks for the birth of Caitlin. In our Bible reading, we heard of the exciting news of a birth as well. It’s the very first thing that Luke tells us as he begins to write his gospel, so he must see this birth as very important, to understand everything that comes next.

So if this is the very start of his story, I wonder what you made of it. We all know how stories begin. ‘Once upon a time, there were...’ Or even ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’. But that’s not how Luke begins. You see, this is no fairy tale. Luke is writing history, having carefully researched what has happened. He writes ‘I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.’

Theophilus (friend of God) is a Christian, and Luke has carefully studied what happened, met the eyewitnesses, and has written it down for him, and for us, so that we can be certain about the life, teaching and events of Jesus.

Have you ever watched a film and enjoyed it, only to discover as the credits roll that it’s based on a true story? This is the true story of what happened - you see it in the details Luke includes: that Herod is the king of Judea, that Zechariah is a priest, married to Elizabeth, and details of which section of the priesthood he’s in. Luke is telling us the true story, something we can rely on and trust.

It’s the true story of a special child - as we can see from the special circumstances of the birth.

As we’ve said, Zechariah is a priest, and we’re taken with him to Jerusalem, to the temple. You see, there were 24 sections of priests, each taking their turn in serving at the temple. Zechariah and the rest of the priests of Abijah went up to Jerusalem for their week. While there, one of them would be selected by lot to go inside the holy place to offer a sacrifice of incense on the altar. It’s reckoned that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance - some men never got the opportunity.

He knew what he needed to do - go in, light the incense offering, and then return outside to bless the people waiting outside. Simple. Except when he went inside, things weren’t as he expected. There was an angel inside, waiting to see him! I wonder what you think of when you hear of angels - fluffy wings and white robes? Zechariah is terrified - the sight is awesome - fear overwhelms him.

The angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is going to become a dad, that him and Elizabeth are going to have a child. No pregnancy testers here, nor 12 week scans. Just a heavenly messenger straight from God announcing the forthcoming birth. What a special child this is going to be. But that’s not all.

Just think of the parents of this child. Back in verse 7, we were told that ‘they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.’ It’s what Zechariah says himself in verse 18: ‘I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ All those years of childlessness, all that pain, and suddenly the news comes of this special birth of this special child.

You might be remembered of another time when an elderly couple had a baby - Abraham and Sarah were in their nineties when they suddenly had to go shopping for maternity wear and nursery furniture - when God gave them the child of promise Isaac. This is the beginning of another chapter in God’s purposes as he gives another miracle baby, this special child in special circumstances.

Now I don’t know if Chris and Gail had a lot of trouble choosing Caitlin’s name, but Zechariah and Elizabeth had an easy time - Gabriel tells him what the child’s name is going to be: John (which means gift from the Lord). The special child in special circumstances is a gift from God.

The news was so unexpected that Zechariah simply can’t believe it. He thinks of himself and his wife and thinks - this simply can’t happen. Surely they’re past it. So he says: ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ How can I be sure that what you have said is going to happen?

He’s given a surprising sign, isn’t he? ‘But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’ (20)

Now there might be some wives would be glad of their husbands not being able to speak for a wee while. Zechariah is struck dumb because he doesn’t believe the angel’s message, this true story of a special child.

When a baby is born, there are lots of hopes and expectations. This little baby with so much potential - we simply don’t know what little Caitlyn will grow up to do and be. It’s our prayer that she will grow up to love the Lord Jesus and serve him, but at this stage we just don’t know what will happen.

But in our reading, this special child has a special purpose, as Gabriel tells Zechariah in verses 16-17. ‘He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’

You see John’s birth was promised in the Old Testament. God’s people have been waiting for about four hundred years for him to appear on the scene as the one who would come in advance of the Lord’s arrival. He would come in the power of Elijah - who was one of the Old Testament prophets - to prepare the way for the Lord.

This child John will grow up to go before the Lord, to make people ready for the Lord’s arrival. John will be a bit like a motorbike outrider calling people to get ready for the arrival of the king. His message is that the Lord is coming, and we need to be ready for him.

We’re not just talking about getting ready for Christmas (although it’s only four weeks today - are you ready?!), we’re talking about the Lord’s coming. If you turn over a page or two in the Bible you find John appearing in the wilderness preaching his message of repentance, calling people to turn around from their sins. John begins his ministry before Jesus appears on the scene to bring God’s salvation.

The true story of a special child with a special purpose. We’re not just dealing with fairy tales. Luke hasn’t just made up a nice wee story. He’s telling us of things that happened, that God has done in his world, so that we can be certain of what we believe.

All that happens here is in fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament, getting people ready for the arrival of Jesus, turning people towards God. John was born, this special child with this special purpose - to point to Jesus.

When Zechariah was told the news of what God was doing, he didn’t believe, and was struck dumb. But will we believe the good news? Will we believe that what God has said and done to prepare the way for Jesus is true? Will we believe that Jesus is the Lord, the one who rules, who will bring salvation? This true story is two thousand years old now. Jesus came, heralded by John, to die for our salvation. On this Advent Sunday we look forward to Jesus’ return, when he will come as King and Judge. Are you ready for his return?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th November 2011.

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