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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent


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God's Messengers

Readings in Common Worship Lectionary:-
Malachai 3. 1 - 4: Philippians 1. 3 - 11: (Luke 3. 1 – 6)
or better, my alternative Luke 1. 67 – 79 (which is set as the Canticle of the day)

Some Background
The home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist was in 'a city in the hill country of Judah'. The Greek word used for 'city' is 'polis' which could be anything from a small village settlement to the City of Jerusalem itself. Remembering that the population in 'the hill country' was predominantly rural, the 'city' which Mary, the expectant mother of Jesus, visited would be a village settlement or small market town.
Then, as now, in a small community news, both good and bad, would spread rapidly! The village well for the women and the town gate for the men were the equivalent of our shops and pubs. The habits and customs of small rural communities have not really changed much over the centuries. Forget “Facebook” and “Twitter” - good, (or bad) old fashioned gossip works just as well in our villages as it did 2000 years ago in Galilee!

Introduction
Throughout the history of the people of God there have been men and women of vision. The old word was 'Seer' - 'one who sees God's purpose and vocalizes it'. These people were later known as 'prophets' - Someone who could not only speak the word of the Lord into the present situation but also speak His word into a future situation. So in our Bible we have the Books of the Prophets. Some words from the last of these, Malachai, we heard read this morning. After Malachai there is silence – for over 400 years!

And then – strange things begin to happen! An angel of the Lord appears to an elderly Jewish priest named Zechariah as he is officiating in the Temple in Jerusalem. The angel gives the promise of a son to an apparently barren, elderly couple. Zechariah questions the possibility of this and is struck dumb! Not surprising considering the shock of seeing an angel, let alone the message he received. He remained dumb throughout his wife Elizabeth's pregnancy. The village gossips would have a field day! 'Have you heard, Zechariah has been struck dumb! They say that he saw an angel . . . . .'

The name of the baby boy was given by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah. 'you shall call his name John'. The name itself is a shortened form of the Hebrew 'Johanan' which means 'the Lord is gracious'. The prophetic ministry of this child was to prepare the way for the gracious intervention of God, as he comes in Christ to redeem His people. At the very moment that the dumb Zechariah confirmed the child's name in writing, 'his tongue was loosed and he spoke, blessing God'. 'And all these things were talked about throughout the whole hill country of Judea'.

Which brings us to our text:-

The prophetic message given through Zechariah Luke 1, verses 67 – 79
The opening verse 67 emphasizes the source of the message. '. . . Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied . . .' After all these years of silence the voice of prophecy is heard once again: the Holy Spirit of God speaking His word into the present and the future.
So let us look together at the word of God as given to Zechariah:-

68) Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.
69) and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David
70) as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71) that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us:
72) to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant,
73) the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74) to grant to us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear
75) in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
76) And you child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77) to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
78) through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
79) to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

To make good sense of the passage we need to know that it is in the form of a 'chiasm'. A method of writing poetry more often found in the Old Testament – again a link to the Jewish past!
This format repeats itself from beginning and end, working towards a central theme.
Knowing this we can see that :-
“Salvation / Redemption” is a common theme to verses 68 – 69 and 77 – 79.
“Prophet / Prophets” is common to verses 70 and 76
and “Enemies” to verses 71 and 74

The Heart of the Matter:-
This brings us to the centre of the passage, namely verses 72 and 73. And at the very heart of the word of God to his people through Zechariah is the promise and covenant made to Abraham (Genesis 12) 2000 years before this prophecy! This covenant was reiterated to Isaac (Genesis 26), to Jacob / Israel (Genesis 28 and 35), and an even greater promise to Moses (Exodus 19 verses 5 – 6). God's people were to be 'a kingdom of priests and a holy nation', bringing blessing to God's world 'for all the earth is mine,'.
The salvation promised for so many centuries was at hand. The great Deliverer was coming- the Lord Himself was about to 'visit and redeem his people'. The Saviour who would deliver his people from sin and death is foretold again. A repeat of the word prophesied down the ages

The expected Elijah the prophet:-
The Jewish people were looking expectantly for the coming of the great prophet Elijah (Malachai 4 verse 5). This newborn child John was to be the great forerunner to 'go before the Lord to prepare his way'. Jesus himself said of John, 'I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John' (Luke 7 verse 28). The prophecies of the Old Testament are about to be fulfilled in the New.

The coming Saviour / Redeemer:-
Described as 'a horn of salvation' in verse 69. This is a quote from 2 Samuel 22 verse 2 and Psalm 18 verse 2 spoken originally by King David 'on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul' (Introduction to Psalm 18). The 'horn' here probably refers to a symbol of power and strength. However it is worth noting that the 'horns of the altar' in the Old Testament were the place of sanctuary and safety (see for example 1 Kings 1 verse 50).
The coming Saviour was to be from the House of David. The One who was to bring light, healing and peace to God's people.

The words of Zechariah link the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament with the fulfillment of the New.
We too can say with him - 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people'.

Rejoice and be glad,
the Redeemer has come.
Go look on His cradle,
His cross and His tomb


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©TWB Rural Matters 2015
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