When Will Christmas Come?

December 8, 2017

When will Christmas come?

Imagine that you didn’t know when Christmas would come; it might be December 25. But it might be much later. All you have is a promise: Christmas will come. Wait for it. Expect it. Be ready for it.

Imagine that went on day after day, week after week, month after month.

Would you still believe that Christmas is coming?

At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the Jews are in that situation. Through the prophets God had given them many promises about a future king, a future messiah, a Son of King David who would reign in righteousness. But no such king had come.

  • King David had reigned about a thousand years previously – as far in the past as William the Conqueror’s invasion of England is today.
  • Isaiah had prophesied, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” about seven hundred years previously – today, as far in the past as Geoffrey Chaucer’s composition of “The Canterbury Tales.”
  • About four hundred years previously, Malachi had prophesied, “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Today, that is as far distant as when William Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet.”

Then after Malachi, there have been no other Scriptural prophecies. Just waiting. Waiting. And more waiting. No Messiah. Only long periods of oppression broken by short periods of political freedom.

But God had promised that His salvation would come at exactly the right time: “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. . . . The righteous will live by his faith” (From Habakkuk 2:3-4).

So God’s people waited and waited and waited.

Two thousand years ago, during the reign of Herod the Great, God at long last brings about His plan – the plan He had formulated before the beginning of time to redeem and perfect His people for Himself, to the praise of His glorious grace.

He chooses for the parents of the messenger prophesied in Malachi a couple too old to have children, Zechariah and Elizabeth, a godly man and woman from priestly families. They “were righteous before God” (Luke 1:6) (not meaning they were sinless, but that when they sinned they repented and offered the appropriate sacrifice ordained by God.) For many years they had prayed long and hard for a child. But that child never came. By this point, they are too old. And I think they had stopped praying for a child. God had not seen fit to give them children.  They accepted His judgment.

Zechariah was one of about 18,000 priests among the Jews at this time.  One of the most important priestly tasks was to enter the temple twice a day to burn incense. Remember, the temple as a whole is a picture of God’s presence with His people. But inside the temple was the Holy of Holies – the Most Holy Place, where God was specially pictured as present. The incense altar was right outside that room, and thus pictures the point of contact between God and His people.

Which priest had the honor of burning incense at the altar? The privilege rotated among several different groups of priests  – but within each group, the priest was chosen by lot. With so many to choose from, most likely a priest would have this privilege only once in his entire life.

So finally, in his old age, the lot falls to Zechariah! This is a real high point of his life, as he approaches God representing the people.

Now, this daily incense offering has been going on for years and years. Zechariah never heard of anything unusual happening.

But suddenly, while he is burning the incense, a mighty angel appears! Zechariah is astonished and afraid.

But the angel says, “Fear not! Your prayer has been heard! Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John.”

God had heard his prayers from long ago, and although Zechariah didn’t know it, God’s answer to his request for a son was not, “No,” but, “Not yet.”

The angel tells this fearful and puzzled man that he personally will have joy and gladness. But not only that: “Many will rejoice at his birth.”  So this child is not only the answer to Zechariah’s prayers for a child, but also the answer to all these prayers the Jews have offered for centuries.

The angel continues:

“For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15-17).

This boy John will fulfill the promise through Malachi; the messenger like Elijah preparing the way for the Messiah is here, at long last. Like Elijah, he will turn the people to repentance and faithfulness before God, preparing the people for the coming of His Messiah.

The time is at hand! The messenger will be conceived! The Messiah will come! The long wait is over!

But how does Zechariah respond to this great news?

The angel has told Zechariah that he and many others will have great joy at this birth.

Yet faithful old Zechariah has a hard time believing this, asking, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). That is, “I can’t just take your word for this. This is too hard to believe! Give me a sign!”

Are you like Zechariah?

Everyone who rejects the Gospel acts like this! We hear, “This is the way to true joy! This is the way to God, the way He planned before the beginning of time! Just believe in the Lord Jesus!” And we have a tendency say: “Hey! I won’t let you pull one over on me! I’m too bright for that! Prove it to me!”

But this doubting tendency manifests itself among believers too. For we often reject God’s plan for us.

  • God says, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Yet we are afraid to step out in faith when it implies doing something embarrassing or receiving less income or moving to a place with much disease and poor medical care.
  • God inspires the psalmist to say, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). But we hold on to all our little trinkets and pray, “Oh, please God, don’t make me give these up!”
  • God says through Paul, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). But we think, “How can I possibly serve God without broadband internet access?”

God says, “Here is great joy! Follow Me!” And Zechariah – and we – say, “Hold it! That’s too hard to believe!”

Note Gabriel’s response to Zechariah’s doubts: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news” (Luke 1:19).

That is: “Hey! Zechariah! Do you know who’s speaking to you! God sent me here! And did you notice? This is GOOD news!”

Then, to paraphrase verse 20: “You asked for a sign? I’ll give you a sign! You won’t be able to speak until the prophecy comes to pass. But note: This prophecy WILL come to pass!”

Now, Zechariah comes around. Elizabeth does become pregnant. She gives birth to a son. And when Zechariah writes, to the surprise of those present, that the baby’s name is John, his mouth is open, and he sings a great hymn of praise to God (Luke 1:68-79).

But consider how the lesson Zechariah learns applies to us today.

We too have a promise from God from long ago. We too have been waiting for centuries and millennia for that promise to be fulfilled. So long ago Jesus said, “Surely I am coming soon!” (Revelation 22:20). And, indeed, many of the Old Testament promises that Zechariah knew will only be fulfilled when Jesus returns.

So wait expectantly. Trust His promises. Pray for Jesus’ return.

But we can do more than wait. We can do more than pray. Peter speaks of our “hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12). Our Lord says, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

God has a role for you in hastening the return of our Lord. It may be giving to enable that Gospel to be proclaimed to all nations. It may be sending others who go. It may be going internationally yourself. It may be going to the nations who have come to Charlotte. It may be going to your next door neighbor.

But whatever role God has for you – whatever the trials, whatever the difficulties, whatever the challenges – that role for you is joyous and fulfilling. Completing that role will give you the greatest joy you can have in this life, as you fulfill the purpose for which God created you and chose you.

So eagerly expect the Second Coming. Pray for Jesus to return. And fulfill your role in hastening that long-promised return – to your great joy.

 

 

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