Anticipate the Miracle

November 29, 2020 

Pastor Joel Plisek               

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-25

What event lets you know that Christmas is right around the corner?  How do you know the season of Advent is here?  Apple pie for breakfast tells me Advent is here.  I walk into the kitchen after Thanksgiving Day and find some pie left over, and I weigh my options between pie and cereal. It is the most wonderful time of the year; it is a trigger for me that lets me know that Christmas is coming.

What about you?  Maybe it is a movie on TV?  Or Christmas parties?  Or maybe it is putting up lights and decorations.  Do you have those little triggers that indicate to you Christmas is coming? 

Here is the interesting thing that I have noticed, as we grow older, we can lose the eager anticipation.  The reason is that there are a lot of to do lists.  There are a lot of responsibilities. The eager anticipation that we have as children can be replaced with grown-up responsibilities.  The challenge for all of us is letting the wrong things dominate our time during this season. 

Today we are reading the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth.  Their story reminds us that with God anything is possible.

God had not spoken for 400 years, he was silent.  There were no prophets, there were no angels.  Humanity was waiting for God to step into creation and speak once again. 

Zachariah and Elizabeth were both righteous in the sight of God and yet they were childless.  Those two things typically did not go together.  Being righteous in the sight of God simply meant that they had a genuine faith in God.  It did not mean that they were sinless!  That is not possible.  It meant that they believed that God was going to provide for them.  This was an Abraham type of faith when he left Ur to go to Canaan.  They maintained that faithfulness despite being deeply disappointed from having no kids. 

In that day people mistakenly believed that being barren was a sign of spiritual defect in a woman.  They did not have fertility experts back then. 

They did not understand the medical complications and all the things that could go wrong.  They believed that God held a grudge against a woman and was punishing her for some kind of sin in her life.  As a result, Elizabeth was a woman who lived with shame, disgrace, and deep disappointment.

This is what I love about the Bible, God takes broken, messed up people.  Elizabeth and Zachariah do not have it all together.  Then God comes, works, and moves in peoples’ lives like that.  That is Good News to me! 

As much as it goes against the grain of our desires for security and comfort, God needs us to face impossible situations before we can see His miracles.  You want comfort and security just as much as I do,  but God allows us to NOT experience those so that we are prepared for Him to move in powerful and fresh ways in our lives.

Now having established the credentials of this elderly couple, verse 9 gives us our first Dramatic Event – Zachariah was Chosen. Do not overlook this fact that Zachariah as a priest was chosen out of 8,000 priests to go into the temple and burn incense on this day.  They were only chosen one time in their life for this great honor.  It is at this time that God providentially orchestrates the drawing of the lot out that has Zachariah’s name on it.  No one had any idea that God was at work in that situation in a powerful and unique way. 

God is at work in your life as well.  He sees your life with great intimacy, knowledge, and insight.  He knows every fear, every insecurity, and every hardship that you are facing. Just like in this situation with Zachariah, He may be orchestrating things in your life that look ordinary, but God makes it extraordinary.  God is always at work and moving, we should anticipate His miracles to happen. 

Zachariah is alone in the temple; he is burning the incense, let us look at the Second Dramatic Event – The Angel Appeared.  What a crazy, terrifying, wild experience this is. First Zachariah is gripped with fear.  Then he is told that he and his wife are going to experience this amazing miracle.  The single greatest place of pain and shame in their life is going to be reversed; their going to have a son.  His name will be John and he is going to prepare the way for the Messiah. 

Zachariah says, “How can this be for I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  I like how he says that. That is a tactful way of putting it, isn’t it?  That’s a smart man right there.  A lot of wisdom.  The angel Gabriel knew the doubt that was in Zachariah’s heart.  This was not an innocent question, and so the angel replies, “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.”

You must love Gabriel’s logic here. Zachariah is doubting the things that Gabriel says so Gabriel gives him one qualification, “I stand in the presence of God.”  In that short little phrase, it’s like Gabriel is saying to Zachariah, “alright Zachariah, God has chosen to go outside of the lines and give you and your wife a baby, and now I am going to give you nine months to think about that quietly.”  No hardship is ever further away from a miracle than one word from God.  Zachariah’s deepest place of disappointment and pain has just been miraculously changed. 

Then as the story goes on, we get a bit of a humorous story in verse 21. Zachariah is taking a lot longer in the temple than he is supposed to be taking.  You just light some candles and lift some prayers and then you are out of there. The others are wondering what is taking so long. 

The third dramatic Event – Zachariah must return home & tell Elizabeth what the angel said, but he couldn’t talk.  That must have been an interesting conversation. As he is probably trying to act or write it out, Elizabeth is confused.  She is probably thinking I am too old to have a baby.  What are you talking about?  What happened in this vision that you had? 

We are not told much about Elizabeth here.  All we are told is that she went into seclusion for five months.  Why did she go into seclusion for five months?  I think the answer is at the end of verse 25, “Thus, the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” 

Elizabeth was experiencing a shift in her heart.  In those five month she dropped memories of disappointment and shame like heavy stones.  In those five months her fears were replaced with courage, her disgrace was replaced with dignity, and her shame was exchanged with the gracious favor of God so that she could say in that verse that the Lord has taken away my “reproach among the people.”

How does this story instruct our approach to the Christmas season? 

We can have hope in the all-powerful Jesus both today and in eternity.  When we place our hope in Jesus for today, we refuse to allow despair and doubt to occupy our hearts.  Doubt is the way Zachariah responded to this situation, but as we place our hope in Jesus in eternity, we set our minds on the second coming of Jesus. 

Today, are you facing circumstances that are frustrating?  Exhausting?  Heartbreaking?  Of course, you are.  That is life.  This has been a tough year for everyone, and we can relate to Zachariah and Elizabeth; we know shame and disappointment as well.  Maybe it is a failure from your past?  It could be an addiction you are battling.  Maybe it is a child who did not turn out the way you had envisioned? We know these struggles, and they can dominate our minds and our hearts.  They can follow us around like a grey cloud.  We can wonder why am I not more hopeful?  Why am I not more joyful?  It is because we have allowed those hardships and difficulties to dominate us.  We lost that sense of childlike anticipation for God to do a miracle. 

This is where we all have a choice. We can allow those disappointments to plant seeds of doubt and discouragement in our hearts, or we can place our hope in the all-powerful Jesus to do a miracle today in our lives.  Anticipate the miracle. 

When we put Jesus at the center of this season of Christmas and Advent, we get rid of all the doubts and questions. Rather, when we place limits on what can be accomplished by visible human resources, we allow worldliness to creep into our hearts.  Sometimes we look at circumstances in our lives and think how easily God could fix them. Or we have prayed for something for so many years and wonder why God has not done it. Then we start thinking that’s just not God’s plan, or this hardship is too large for God to change.  Those are all examples of placing limitations on what God can do. 

There is a pastor and author, Jack Miller, who said, “this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirits power.”  We do not want to live like that.  We do not want to have a secular understanding of what God could do in our lives.  We want our understanding to be built upon the solid foundation of God’s Word.  What can the Spirit of God do?   He can undo any hardship that you are facing.  He could change your life in a moment. 

The lesson from Zachariah and Elizabeth is to hold on to hope in this all-powerful Jesus.  That is how it relates to us today. 

Now let me talk about eternity.  Let us be completely realistic. As much as I believe that God will do miracles in your lives, He is not going to solve all our hardships.  We are never told that in scripture.  Some of the people we are praying for will die, something painful, and disappointing in our lives will remain unresolved.  That is why it is vital for the Christian to look beyond today into eternity. 

A great example of that is Fanny Crosby. She served God in the powerful way of writing 9,000 hymns. Songs like “Rescue the Perishing,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” and “To God Be the Glory.”  Something that makes his even more amazing is that she wrote all those hymns while blind.  She was blinded as a baby because of the malpractice of a doctor.  Crosby lived an amazing life for the Lord, and she was asked if she could receive her eyesight back would she want it?  Crosby’s response was no.  She states that “the first face I want to see when I get to heaven is Jesus.”

That is kingdom perspective.  Christians place their hope in Jesus for eternity and it is based upon Jesus and Jesus alone.  In Jesus’ first coming we can confidently know that God keeps his promises.  People waited a long time for the Messiah to come, just like we are waiting a long time for Jesus to come back a second time.  While we may live and die with something unresolved in our lives, Revelations 21:14 tells us that when Jesus returns that there will be no more tears, there will be no more pain, there will be no more mourning, crying, or hardship, there will be no more problems to solve.  In eternity we will have the perfect union and experience with Jesus Christ.  Christians should look forward to that with hope and anticipation, and those give us the ability to endure the suffering now. 

Jesus knows our pain, but He wants us to live with the hopeful anticipation that He might change it.  He might change it this month.  He certainly will change it in eternity. As we are going through this season of Advent let us allow it to be a season where we are living in anticipation looking and praying for God to move in new and powerful ways.