Advent Midweek 2 LSB #’s 331:1-4, 331:5-6, 862
Text – Luke 1:5
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, & her name was Elizabeth.
In the 1st year of their marriage, with his wife sick with a fever, her husband insists, “I’m taking you to the hospital for a complete checkup.” In the 2nd year of their marriage, when his wife gets sick, her husband announces, “I’ve called the doctor & he’s going to rush right over.” In the 3rd year her husband says, “I’ll make you something to eat. Do we have any soup?”
In the 4th year of marriage, when his wife is sick again, her husband says, “After you’ve fed the kids & washed the dishes, you’d better get some rest, but don’t worry, I’ll cash the check from AFLAC.” Family life can be the best of times. It can be the worst of times.
On this 2nd Wednesday in Advent, we begin a new sermon series called “Family Life.” There’s much to learn from the families connected with the birth of Jesus. They faced infertility, rejection, frustration, loss, & so much more. Luke 1:5 introduces us to two of these families:
“In the time of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.” This sermon has two parts. In the 1st Herod’s family will be highlighted. In the 2nd we will zero in on Zechariah’s family.
Herod’s family – This Herod is also called “Herod the Great.” And, yes, this is the same Herod who, when Jesus was born, ordered the execution of all the boys under the age of two in & around Bethlehem. In fact, to say that Herod was a monster, is putting it mildly. Born into a politically connected family in 73 BC, Herod was destined for a life of political hardball.
He married ten times & ordered the execution of two of his wives & three of his sons. When Herod’s father was poisoned by a political opponent, seething with revenge, he formed an ingenious plan. He invited his father’s killers over for a dinner party. As they arrived he had all of them murdered. By the age of 69 Herod knew he was dying & that no one would mourn his death. He longed for tears at his funeral, so he devised one final, desperate plan.
He would bring together the top leaders of the land for a meeting in Jericho &, once they arrived, he would have his fortress gates locked. Just before the moment of his death all the leaders would be massacred. One way or another, people would cry when Herod died.
In the late 1800s two paddleboats on the Mississippi River left Memphis, Tennessee on a race to New Orleans. As his boat fell behind, an enterprising sailor took some of the ship’s cargo & began throwing it into the ovens. When other sailors saw that the supplies burned just like coal, they threw more & more of it in.
That boat ended up winning the race, but in the process burned all its cargo. It is a tragic picture of Herod’s family. To win the race, eliminate every rival, & to be top dog, Herod burned all the cargo. He destroyed his family.
“Thank God,” I can hear us saying, “I am not like Herod. I never raise an angry hand against a child. I pay my taxes, & every now & then I slip a little money into the offering plate. Once at a nursing home I even played bingo with my grandmother.”
But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we sometimes see in the mirror a little Herod staring back at us. There’s a part of us all that would rather rule than serve, dominate rather than submit, get ahead & win even at the expense of people in our family.
We’ve all used words to slice & dice our spouse, made selfish decisions that hurt our children & ignored clear warnings from God’s word. The result? Though family can be the best of times, too often family is also the worst of times. That’s enough highlighting of Herod’s family. Let’s now zero-in on Zechariah.
Zechariah’s family – “They had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; & they both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:7) In Luke 1:25, Elizabeth describes her barrenness as “a disgrace among the people.” In those days, if you had children you had everything. Conversely, if you had no children you had nothing.
Zechariah & Elizabeth longed for a child, but now it’s too late. That ship sailed & the train left the station. There was no going back. “They were old.” The pain of regret hits us most frequently when it comes to family.
Maybe you are like Zechariah & Elizabeth, wanting children but not able to conceive. Maybe you’re single, desperately wanting to be married, but it just has not happened. Maybe you’re married, & it hasn’t turned out like you had hoped. Like Zechariah & Elizabeth we can all feel disgrace & shame among the people.
End of story? No way! God intervened! He gave Elizabeth & Zechariah gifts – the same gifts He gives to our families. What are they?
God’s promises never end. Israel’s three matriarchs Sarah (Gn 11:30), Rebekah (Gn 25:31) & Rachel (Gn 29:31) were all barren at one time. So was Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Sm 2:5). All four women eventually had children. Elizabeth & Zechariah must have believed if God could do it before – not once, but four times – God can do it again!
Has family life left you frustrated & empty? Then hear this. If God was faithful to Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel & Hannah, He will be faithful to you. God loves you. His promises for you in Jesus Christ never, ever end! You may have given up on you. But God will never give up on you. He replaces barrenness & brokenness with goodness & grace!
God’s presence never disappoints. “[Zechariah] was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord & burn incense.” (Lk 1:9) Luke 23:45 records another time that someone has access to the temple; “The curtain of the temple was torn in two.” In Luke 1, Zechariah has access to God’s presence. In Luke 23, because of Christ’s death, we all have access to God’s presence. And the presence of Yahweh never disappoints!
God’s presence is most evident in the Lord’s Supper. The body that suffered & was crucified – that true body is present for you. The blood that was shed, spilled & splattered – that true blood is present for you. By the blood of Jesus you have access to the most holy presence of the most Holy God! And His presence forgives all your family failures – every last one of them!
God’s plan never fails. God gave Elizabeth & Zechariah a child, promising that John: “would go before the Lord, in the spirit & power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” (Lk 1:17) God’s plan & desire is to turn all hearts toward home, to replace vengeance & bitterness with forgiveness & love.
So one day a mother came home from the grocery store. Looking in her living room she saw her four children sitting in a circle. As she got closer, she saw that her children were playing with four of the cutest little skunks you’ve ever seen! The mother yelled, “Run, children, run!” So each child grabbed a skunk & began to scatter.
After that? Let’s just say that things began to get real stinky! Family life! It can be the worst of times. It can be the best of times. The next time it gets stinky in your family, don’t fly off the handle like Herod – you could lose it all. Instead, trust in God’s promises, God’s presence, & God’s plan. They are real. They are alive. And they work.
Don’t believe me? Then just ask Zechariah & Elizabeth! Amen.
Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall, where Jesus Christ is all in all! A home that is not wholly His – how sad & poor & dark it is! Oh, blest the house where faith is found & all in hope & love abound; they trust their God & serve Him still & do in all His holy will. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet