3rd Advent Service
(Delivered at St. John Lutheran, Seward NE)
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 1:57-80 Sermon
December 17, 2014
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TEXT (vs. 6-7, 13, 18-20): 6 [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
There are some objects in this building you might have seen before, but you probably never gave these objects much thought. These objects are throughout the church and school, and there are some of these objects right here in this very area, right here in this sanctuary.
These objects aren't unique toSt. John, or to Lutheranism, or even to Christianity. But yet, these are objects that are designed and manufactured to get your attention.
If I look stage left over by the eastern exit door, or I look stage right and behind me at the stairway going down to the sacristy, I see that there are two red boxes hanging on the wall that say "Pull for Fire." The only decision I have right now is which one I'm going to pull to demonstrate what happens...well, maybe I'd better not do that.
Do you know what would happen if I did? If you look over here by the Baptismal Font, or over there by the pulpit, high on the wall, you see kind of a white box on the wall. When the fire alarm is activated, these boxes will start to squawk very loudly. In addition to that, there are strobe lights on these boxes that will begin to flash rapidly. The school children and faculty see this happen every time there is a fire drill.
So whether you hear the noise, or you see the strobe lights blinking, these little boxes have your attention. And I don't care what Pastor Bruick or Pastor Ratcliffe is saying, or what Bach Fugue Paul Soulek is playing on the organ, or what fantastic number the choir is singing or the hand bell choir is playing, they are no match for these little boxes on the wall when they are competing for your attention.
I actually happen to know quite a bit about these little devices. Back in the early 1970's I worked for a company called Notifier; and I think that if you look closely at those boxes by the door (called manual pull stations), you'll see the name and logo for Notifier. It was my job to go into various establishments and make sure they were functioning correctly. I was licensed by the State ofNebraskato do quarterly inspections, and submit reports to the State Fire Marshal's Office.
We had various accounts we serviced in Seward too. We took care of the hospital, and the Sundermann Home, and the public schools, and the Hinky Dinky Store, and there was even a little old nursing home in the north side ofJackson Avenuewhere the hospital parking lot is today. And yes, the very building in which we are assembled was also one of our accounts.
These fire alarm systems have to function correctly. If someone pulls a manual station, or if a heat or smoke detector are activated, or the sprinkler system discharges, people need to know about it. The fire alarm has to be such that it gets your attention, your undivided attention.
Okay, so the alarm has your attention. What do you do? Do you ignore it? Do you doubt if it's a real alarm? Do you say to yourself, "Ah, it's nothing, just a false alarm" and continue going about your business? I can tell you that people have made this error in judgment far too often. People have been severely injured and even killed, all because they heard the fire alarm go off, and they chose to doubt it or ignore it all together. It's certainly not a wise decision to do this.
In our text for today, Zechariah was the one who made this classic mistake. Zechariah wasn't ignoring a fire alarm however; he was ignoring the angel Gabriel and God himself. Zechariah found out the hard way that it is never a good idea to ignore God, and to doubt or call into question what he says. He had to suffer the consequences, namely to be struck dumb or speechless for the duration ofElizabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist.
The first chapter of Luke has a lot to say about Zechariah, and Elizabeth, and John, far more than I could hope to cover in this homily. But there are some key things for us to consider.
We know that God made a careful choice when it came to John's parents. They were both devout, God-fearing people who served him faithfully. In verse 6, we read: "And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord." Indeed, this was quite an honor.
Zechariah was a priest. He would have had an intimate working knowledge of the Scriptures, and he would have sought to bring honor to the office he held as he humbly and faithfully went about his duties.
Zechariah also knew prophecy. He was well aware of what Isaiah wrote 600 or so years before. He echoes this in his song in verses 76-78: "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God."
Despite Zechariah's dedication to God, he doubts him. Here is Gabriel, the majestic angel, and he appears before Zechariah. He was troubled and filled with fear and awe. Gabriel certainly had his attention!
And then Gabriel speaks. In effect, he says: "Hey Zechariah, guess what? You're going to be a father! Your wife is pregnant! God has heard your prayers!"
But instead of being elated like we would expect him to be, he scoffs at the idea. "Elizabeth is pregnant? She's an old lady, she's been through menopause, and she's well beyond her child-bearing years! Sorry God, it's just not possible; I think you must have made a mistake."
And then the reply comes. "A mistake, huh? I'll show you who has made the mistake!" And with that, Zechariah loses his power of speech. He is struck dumb. He can make signs and write things down, but that was the only way he could communicate. God showed him just how serious he was, and how important it was to pay attention and believe what God says. God makes no mistakes, and he doesn't lie. His Word is always truth.
We now fast-forward to the birth of John. As soon as he was circumcised and given his name, Zechariah's tongue was loosed, and he could speak again. God's power was once again demonstrated in Zechariah's life.
The words that now spill out of Zechariah's mouth are words of hope and promise. The Saviour was coming into the world. John the Baptist would declare that the Messiah had now arrived, and that the long wait was now over. The prophecy concerning Jesus was being fulfilled. God had come into the world to save his people from their sins.
In our world, we tend to give way to an attitude that puts God into the realm of human logic. We look at the miraculous things he has done, and we say, "No, it couldn't have happened. God couldn't have done that. It's impossible, it defies the natural order of things."
The words "God can't" should never be in our vocabulary. But yet, there are people who profess to be Christians but deny such things as Christ's virgin birth, or Christ's resurrection from the dead. People have the mind of Zechariah. And when people call God's promises into question or doubt him, who knows what kind of consequences there might be.
Through Luke's inspired pen, Zechariah responds with his wonderful hymn of praise. Yes, God is faithful, he can be trusted, he never lies, and he keeps his promises 100%. The people who were living in the darkness of sin have seen Jesus, who is the light of the world, and the light of salvation for all people.
Salvation has come to us here today. It comes to us by grace alone through faith in Christ Jesus alone. We don't have to worry about how many times we have sinned, or how well we have kept God's commandments. Through faith in Christ Jesus, we are wrapped in the righteousness he so freely gives to us. Where we need to pay attention is to the gracious invitation of our Saviour, that weary souls like ours will find the Sabbath rest we so desperately need.
Fire alarm systems are designed for the protection of life and property. A fire alarm can certainly get your attention. And I have inspected and serviced many of them so they work properly. Yes, I've pulled manual stations many thousands of times in connection with my past work. But as good as the fire alarm system is, it's only as effective as the response of those who have heard or seen it. The fire alarm won't save your life if you decide to remain in a burning building.
The Saviour is coming, and he is coming to us in today's world through Word and Sacrament. He's got our attention. He has called us through the Gospel. Therefore we believe God and trust that he will one day take us home to live with him for all eternity.
Sermon preached at St. John Lutheran Church
Midweek Advent Service
December 17, 2014
919 North Columbia Ave.
Seward, NE 68434