So far during the Advent season, we have been discovering the many promises of God that are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christmas season is when we celebrate all that is available to us through Jesus, like hope, peace, joy, and love.
On the first week, we discovered that God’s promised Hope is a certainty about the future that impacts us right here and now, because hope is birthed out of deep longings and desperate need for God’s presence and comfort. And in 1 Peter, we are told that our hope is not set in some kind of empty wishful thinking, which is great news, because if it was, then our hope would end in despair and disappointment. But instead, our hope is found in Jesus Christ.
Then last week, we looked at the promise of Peace that was first given to the lowly shepherds. The angel said there would be a new government that would come, and it would bring peace to those whom God favors. How do we get God’s favor? We get right with God. Repair our relationship with Him. The most important place we need to find peace is in our relationship with God. You see, the birth of this promised king is the coming of a new rule for the entire world, and that rule begins inside each and every one of our hearts.
And it’s not just a peace that we find when there’s no conflict. It’s a peace that we find in the presence of God, anytime, especially in conflict. So even though the world may be in chaos around us, we find a comfort and a confidence in knowing that we have been made right with God through the blood of Jesus, and that He is with us.
Today we are taking a look at the third theme of Advent:
Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year. I love everything about it. I love gathering with friends and family to celebrate. I love eating the Christmas meal and, of course, the Christmas desserts. I love the Christmas lights and festivities. I love the music. In fact, I really love the music. It just makes me feel good, happy, joyful.
When, I’m in the car, watch out! Yes, I am that person in the car next to you at the red light that is jamming out to Christmas music, bopping around in my seat and singing like no one can hear me (at least I hope not). In fact, all week Carter (my 13 year old step-son) and I have been singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs. (My husband is probably so tired of us – haha). Music is just so powerful and brings such joy. Just think about when we all join together and sing those famous Christmas carols in church or how about at Rock Chapel. How can you not find joy in that?!
When someone finds joy in something, it is hard to hide it. The things that bring you joy are the things that you want to share with the world around you. It’s in our nature to want others to share that happiness with us.
So it’s no wonder then we find in Scripture, that God is eager to share the joy of Christ’s birth, even before it was time for Him to arrive. The incarnation, which is Jesus’ birth or God coming to the earth as a human, is the greatest gift that has ever been given. You can almost sense God’s excitement for the hope, peace, joy, and love that would come through His arrival.
POINT #1: JESUS’ BIRTH IS THE SOURCE OF TRUE JOY.
The book of Isaiah speaks to this coming gift. There is this prophetic word given about someone who would come to prepare the world for the arrival of Jesus. This passage was written hundreds of years before its fulfillment and is one of God’s joyful promises about the future.
3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! 4 Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. 5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!”
God promises that there will be a time of preparation before Christ’s birth. There will be a straightening and a leveling that will take place, ensuring that the glory of God in Jesus would be made available to all people. When I read these verses, I can sense the intense joy that God has to share with the world. The world that was once broken by sin, will now be made right.
The truth is that preparation is key to fully enjoying any great event.
How many of you decorate you homes for Christmas? I love to do this. Every year, I think I’ll cut back, but then I get going and the excitement builds (and my kids think all of it has to be out), so we do it. We decorate the front porch, display my snowman collection, put out the nativity scene, put up the tree, and we absolutely can’t forget about the Christmas village.
When I was a teen, my father, slowly each year bought me ceramic homes, shops, people and animal figurines that all go to a small village named Dickensvale. The collection has become quite special to me as my father passed away shortly after it was completed.
The reason I do all of this is because I love preparing the way for our family to celebrate Jesus.
The promise in the Old Testament is that the people of God will see this preparation take place. God does not want them to miss it because it is the signpost for what is to come. Any barriers that are in the way to experiencing the joy of the miraculous birth are removed. There is no desert, no mountain, no valley, no rugged place that will stand in the way of the revelation of Christ.
We come across a character in the New Testament named Zechariah. He is a priest who serves in the temple of God. We find him in the temple taking part in a worship tradition, burning incense in worship while people are praying outside.
11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
While Zechariah was serving in the temple, suddenly an angel of the Lord was speaking to him. He was startled and gripped with fear. But, like any interactions with angels in the Christmas stories, the first word given to him is not to be afraid.
Apparently, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, had been praying for a child, and their prayers are finally being answered. They will give birth to a son, and they are to name him John. The angel said, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” This child will be filled with the Spirit of God, and he will be kept free from wine and fermented drink because he would take a Nazarite vow to serve God all of his life. These vows kept him from drinking alcohol, the cutting of his hair, or coming in contact with dead bodies.
Clearly, this boy was special, and God had plans to use him to bring joy to his family and to the entire world by the way he would live. Because of his life, there would be many who would be brought back to the Lord. Because of his life, he would prepare people for something wonderful that was about to happen.
You can see the connections between the Isaiah passage and this story in Luke in verse 17. This baby boy will prepare the people for the arrival of the Lord. John will be a joy not only to his family, but to the entire world, because he will be the one calling in the wilderness and making a way for the arrival of the Son of God. And….
POINT #2: IT IS A JOY TO PREPARE OTHERS TO EXPERIENCE GOD.
One of the greatest joys of the Christmas season is the opportunity we are given to prepare the way for others to see Jesus for who He really is. The most joyful people during this time of year are the ones who have experienced the hope and peace of God in their lives because of their trust in Jesus. The way they speak to others, the way they serve others, the way they treat others are all a means of preparing the way for others to meet Jesus.
This joy is a commodity that is in short supply in our world right now. There are people all around us who are miserable. There are people who are in over their heads with their involvement in sin. They are heartbroken over the pain of life. They are hopeless in the face of suffering. Now is the time for sharing the joy of Jesus with the world!
What is one way you can sacrificially bring joy to those around you? How can your life be a beacon of hope because of your love for Jesus? This was John’s call for his life, and it is ours as well.
Now Zechariah’s response to the message given to him by the angel comes with a bit of a consequence.
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Zechariah is skeptical of the good news given by the angel. He and his wife, Elizabeth, are old, and the human understandings and possibilities of having a child at this age was…like none. The angel was like, “I am telling you the power that is behind me. I stand in the very presence of God! I’m even giving you my name, and trust me, my words will be fulfilled.”
But because of his unbelief and distrust, he is silenced and unable to speak until John is born.
Even though the good news of a God who comes to us in the flesh to rescue us may seem too good to be true, our response matters, and should be marked by deep faith and joy.
Fast-forwarding to the birth of this promised boy, all the family had gathered together to share in this miraculous birth. Something to note: Elizabeth is actually a cousin of a woman named Mary. That Mary happens to be a woman who is also pregnant and will soon give birth to a boy, and that boy will be named Jesus. Jesus and John therefore are cousins, and from the time they were in their mothers’ wombs, they were connected by the Spirit of God.
So, the time has come for John to be born into the world.
Luke 1:57–66 The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.
59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”
61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
65 Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.
When the baby is born, there is a familiar discussion that takes place. What to name the new baby? Everyone expected them to name him after his father. However, both Elizabeth and Zechariah agreed that his name was to be “John,” just as the angel foretold.
John’s name in the Greek means “graced by God” or “Jehovah has been gracious.” This name that is given to the boy speaks volumes to the purpose that surrounds his life. God has been gracious to Elizabeth and Zechariah by giving them a son. But God has also been gracious because through John’s life, the world will be prepared for the biggest gift of grace, the coming of the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus Christ.
POINT #3: OUR JOY COMES FROM THE GRACE OF GOD.
The relatives all celebrated John’s birth, and they shared in Elizabeth’s joy. John’s life is surrounded by joy, and that joy is in the Lord’s work among them.
Zechariah, still unable to speak, writes the name “John” in agreement. And upon his obedient announcement of the boy’s name, he is once again able to speak. Listen to his first response as he rejoices and praises God. It’s a little long, but come on, the man couldn’t speak for the last nine months!
67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,
70 just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant—
73 the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.
76 “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
When the word spread about John’s amazing birth and Zechariah’s recovered speech, everyone over the Judean countryside was in awe and wondered what amazing things John would do with his life. This proved God had something special for him.
The grace that covered John’s birth and life is the same grace that is given to us free of charge. We could never earn God’s grace. It is a gift that is given to us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
We should be people marked by joy because of this grace given to us. God’s gift of Jesus is reason for deep joy. God’s fulfilled promises are a reason for deep joy.
- God fulfilled his promise to Simeon, that he would see the Messiah before he died.
- God fulfilled his promise to the shepherds, that they would find a baby in a manger, a feeding trough, the last place you would think to find a baby, let a long a king.
- And God fulfilled his promise to Zechariah, that he and his wife would have a son who will lead the way for the awaited Messiah.
What promises have God fulfilled in our life? One big one, I know for all of us, is the saving grace of the Messiah.
When we live our lives from the joy of being saved, word spreads quickly, and people are in awe of the miraculous birth of Christ at Christmas.
Are you someone who knows the joys that comes at Christmas? If so, then decide to live with joy as a testimony to the good news of Christ’s birth.
God, today we take time to remember the joy that comes through the birth of your son. We cannot find fulfillment in any other person or thing. This Christmas may we rejoice in the good news of a God who came near to us in the form of a baby and who died for us to give us grace. In our Savior’s name we pray, Amen.