Feeling the holiday rush? The joy of gift-giving and its complexities is a theme we all can relate to. Remember the unadulterated delight of a child receiving their favored gift? Well, that same emotion is often a challenge to recreate as we become adults. Join us as we ruminate on this progression of emotions and the true pleasure that a thoughtful gift can bring.
Let's transition to the story of Elizabeth and Mary, two humble and faithful women who showed that faith is not about having all the answers. Their tale resonates with us, a profound testament of how God's promise unfolds. As Elizabeth gives birth to John, we witness not just a fulfillment but also a lesson - to embody humility and faith in our lives. We then journey to the prophecy of Zechariah, the birth of Jesus, and how it defied Jewish expectations. Beyond the story’s biblical significance, we ponder on Jesus' birth as the ultimate gift that satiates our universal longing for wholeness.
As we immerse in the Advent season, let's slow down, cultivate gratitude, and foster spiritual growth. Zechariah and Elizabeth's story still resonates with us, calling us to reflect during this bustling holiday period. We encourage you to nurture your spiritual well-being, anticipate joyfully, and deepen your connection with God. Remember, amidst the holiday frenzy, the best gift is one of growth and connection. Tune in for an episode that inspires and invigorates, reminding us of the true essence of the holiday season.
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Welcome to Madison Church Online. I'm Stephen Feith Leigh, pastor of MC, and we're so glad you're joining us, whether you're listening to the podcast, watching on YouTube at a later date. And just a reminder to you, we're online only the next two weeks and so everybody who's here in the room will actually be joining you, and so, whereas I usually invite you to join us, we will be joining you the next two weeks Sundays at 11 am. I want to just ask who is like really, really excited for Christmas next week. One hand, two hands wave on. You guys are nowhere near as excited as I am, and I'm not talking about for those of you. If you raise your hand because you just can't wait for it to get over. Just keep it down, sit on those hands. I don't want to know you're excited about it being over. I cannot believe. It's already a week away. This is why I start listening to Christmas music on Halloween day. The season is just too short. I got to extend it out and get all the goodness that is the holidays while I still can. Now. I think you would agree with me or I think a lot of you would agree with me that one of the best parts of Christmas is giving gifts. It's just giving those gifts. There's a whole lot of joy in giving a good gift that you want to give, not like you got invited to your office white Christmas, white elephant party and you had to go out and do something out of obligation. I mean, there's somebody like special in your life. You found the right gift, this thing that they absolutely want, and watching them open up and see the real happiness not the yes happiness, but like the real, like ugly smile that they have when they're really excited, like there's no better feeling than that. But if there is a feeling that's just as good as that, it's getting that really good present that you really want and experiencing that happiness yourself with the big ugly smile. And I want to ask, but before I do, before I ask because I'm experienced now. I've asked this question at Madison Church before and I know that one of you is going to yell spending time with my family Ah, yes, so sweet. I want shallow answers only this morning, and so you keep that sensitive, sentimental stuff to yourself. What do you really want this Christmas? Again, no sentimental stuff, keep it shallow. Where are my extroverts? What do you want for Christmas? Maps, naps, okay. So maps, that's not okay. Naps, yes, naps. Sleep. Food, say. Someone say Jesus, peace, okay, I was going to say Jesus was the next sentimental answer. No, peace, yeah. So we've got some really good answers. Getting and giving the right gift. It gets harder as we get older, doesn't it Like? The older we get, it gets harder to receive a gift that gives us that warmth Feeling and makes us just smile from ear to ear. Because, you know, most of us in the room have most of the things that we want because we can afford a lot, and so we just go out and we get it. So, for example, I have a collection of bourbons. I like bourbon and so it would be difficult for you this holiday season to find an affordable bourbon that I don't already have or haven't tried yet. Okay. But that being said, if some of you are up to the challenge, there's a bottle of Eagle rare, 25 year comes in at about $22,500. So I'm just saying, if any of you, so it's hard when you get older to give gifts that make somebody smile. For me, I promise I'll ugly smile if you get it for me, okay, it would be real ugly, and then I'll even share a glass with you and if you think about it, that's over $1,000 a pour for one and a half ounces. So just keep that Okay. Gift giving it is easier than let's go on the opposite side. So if it's hard when you're old, it is easier when you're younger. Almost anything you get a real young person like think, under the age of eight or 10, they're going to like pretty much love. Whatever it is you get them. Some of you you have young kids. You know this is true, we're the most part anyway. Some of you, your kids are older and they're starting to get into that Everything's. You know dumb, nothing's fun Type of phase of Christmas and presents. But my kids are small enough where Megan and I were able to get them everything on their Christmas list plus a little more. And I already know that, no matter what we get them, there's going to be tons of smiles and tons of laughing on Christmas morning, no matter what we get them. And so, as I was prepping for this talk, I realized there's actually a progression of emotion and feeling to getting a gift, to receiving a gift. I think this is a pretty common. I'm probably missing some things. This is not scientific, I did not ask anyone's opinion, but I think that the first emotion we feel when it comes to getting a present is desire. There's like this desire, there's a specific wish, there's this thing that we want, and for my kids, to help you guys understand it's more Pokemon cards. It's more Pokemon cards. That's the desire. It's not just more, though. It's like certain ones they're excited about every Pokemon card that they get. But I swear it's like we got to buy three packs of 11 cards for them to get one. That they're really amped about. And so every time we go to Target for when we live next door to Target, so it's kind of like our quick just if we got to go pick up one item, we go there. And but every time I take one of the kids with me, we got to go to the toy aisle and the card aisle, because Target puts the Pokemon cards in two spots and we got to look at them. We got to see if there's any new boxes, any new decks, any new sets. We got to look at them. And then we look at the booster packs and the kids talk and they kind of like, guess what might Be in these? I wonder if this is in there. I wonder if that's in there and you know, you don't know. But there is a desire For the gift, there's something that they want, the desire. And then comes the anticipation. Megan and I have already done our christmas shopping. All the gifts are are wrapped on the tree. I was able to actually bring one for you. Nobody spoil this. For all of her. This is one of his gifts that he has and use a little nervous watching me walk out of the house with it. I think they should have been good yesterday. No, I didn't say that to him. I did not say that to him. So all the gifts are wrapped in the tree and our boys will in fact get. I did the math. They will get over 1000 individual pokemon cards next monday when they open their presents. Like, this box Alone has like 400 pokemon cards in it and so they're gonna get a ton of it. They don't know that's what they're gonna get, but they're anticipating because they put on all of their christmas lets Pokemon cards. And so there's the desire, and now there's the anticipation, and then there's the day that we receive our present. The anticipation is over, the desires are met. I can envision now all of her and Elijah are just gonna rip open the paper, but then they're gonna rip open cardboard and they're gonna have to open up all their individual booster packs. I'll be Picking up pieces of plastic for the next six months with pokemon labeled on it and they're going to enjoy, and they will carefully evaluate One out of every 30 cards that we get them next week for the good ones, which then lead leads us to the time that follows. The boys and I will spend hours together organizing their cards. I started to do this as a way to spend just time with them. We buy little binders and card sheets and then we started to organize by sets and organize them through numbers, like one out of 64. We go through and we put them all in there. So we have like three different binders going right now, which is gonna triple next week as we as we do this, and so there comes the point where we get to enjoy the gift, and so I think I came to a safe conclusion, which is that the best gifts in our lives are the ones that we desire, anticipate, receive and then get to enjoy, like pokemon cards or because we're in the season of advent, the birth of jesus. If you didn't know, that's where I was heading with that already. We're continuing our advent series christmas according to luke and the last few weeks we've taken a really, really deep dive into the first couple of chapters of luke's gospel. As a matter of fact, we haven't even gotten into chapter two yet. This is part five and we're still going to be in chapter one, but don't worry, next week we will start Chapter two. Today marks a pivotal point in luke's gospel. It's not just a transition into chapter two. I mean it is that it serves as a transition into the next part of the story, but it serves as this big, extraordinary moment that we've been leading into. The past few weeks we've been talking about the birth of john and everything has been leading up to that, and that is what we're gonna talk about today, and so if you want to follow along in the house bibles or with your smartphones, the words will be on the screen. We're going to luke chapter one, starting with verse Fifty seven, and previous talks are available online, but I'll try to keep you all caught up so that everything makes sense. Luke first introduces us to john through his parents, zechariah and elizabeth. They're an elderly couple. They wanted a child. They couldn't have a child. Now they're well into their sixties when an angel of the lord, gabriel, appears to them and says you're going to have a baby. Elizabeth is humbled by this. She thinks it's great, like I don't know how god's gonna do it, but this is what we want, and god's finally showing up Zachariah. On the other hand, he doesn't quite believe that it's gonna happen and, as such, he gets a little bit of a time out. The angel of the lord takes away Zachariah's ability to speak. But from their story the story of Zachariah and elizabeth, what we learn is that there are no wasted seasons of waiting with god. Remember they waited sixty years or more to get the thing that they wanted most. Nine, oh. That doesn't give you peace if you've been waiting Ten weeks or ten years for something, but it is a reminder in context that god is working, that god had a plan for Zachariah and elizabeth, and that part of this plan Consisted of timing and the importance of timing. Luke then turned our attention to marry a young woman, but wrote to a man named joseph. The same angel, gabriel, comes to her and says you're gonna have a baby as well. She says I'm a virgin. How is this possible? He says god got it all figured out, she says okay. And from mary's story we learn that having faith and being faithful is not contingent on having all the answers. We learned that having faith, listening to God, obeying God, taking a step toward God, it doesn't mean you have all the answers. And in Mary's case she had very few answers. And then last week we talked about how Luke pivots and he introduces us Both. He's introduced Elizabeth and he's introduced us to Mary. Zechariah is kind of out of the picture and he introduces these two expectant mothers together. And though Elizabeth was honestly superior, both her age and her family line, to Mary, she exalts Mary. She remains humble even after God has answered her prayer. And it would have been real easy for Elizabeth to feel kind of jealousy about Mary coming there. I mean, this was kind of supposed to be. Could you imagine like her moment? You waited 60 years for something to happen and God did it. Now I mean you're excited you're going to have a baby, but don't you want just a little bit of attention too? I mean this is cool, the spotlight's finally on you. For 60 years, elizabeth would have been looked down on as the woman who couldn't get pregnant. Zechariah, why don't you leave her, because at least you can have a child and he sticks with her. So for 60 years she's looked down on and this is the moment where it's like, well, now everyone should be really and this is again I mentioned last week it's like Ripley's, believe it or not, like 65-year-old woman and Judea pregnant, like everybody is coming around, but she stays humble. Mary, in turn, joyfully praises God, exemplifying courageous faithfulness despite societal expectations. And in this story, the meeting of these two mothers, it urges us to emulate the humility of Elizabeth and the faithfulness of Mary in our own lives, even when it damages or hurts our reputation and in the unfolding narrative. Now, today we go to verse 57, in which Luke takes us to the moment he's been leaning into. But it was time for Elizabeth's baby to be born. She gave birth to a son, and when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced. And I want you to imagine that some of you have given birth before. All of Elizabeth's neighbors are there, all of her neighbors. Okay, so you think, like modern day giving birth to a child. They put you in your own room, now you know, and it's just the doctors come in, you get a plus one. I unfortunately never mind, so I got the, I got the B, the plus one for us. It was really amped about that. And so this is all your neighbors. Think about your neighbors the ones you like, the ones you don't like, the ones you don't know, the creepy one down the hill. All of them were there and Elizabeth is giving birth. But that was the expectation, that was the tradition, that was the cultural norm. That's just what you did back then and you know nowadays where it's like. You might get invited to a birthday party or Christmas party and you make your best attempt to go, but if something doesn't, if something does come up and you don't go, like it's not the end of the world. This is like a 65 year old woman giving birth. Nothing is going to interrupt me from getting to this. To see what happens, and that is the backdrop of the story. Today, you can almost imagine Elizabeth in her living room giving birth to a child, with the entire neighborhood standing there watching the show. Let's be aware that this is the profound fulfillment of a promise that God has made. The angel foretold Elizabeth would get pregnant and she would give birth to a son. At this point in the story, if you're just walking it through with Luke, she got pregnant, check. But that's only one third of the promise. Only one third of the promise Because another part of the promise was that she would give birth to a boy. And so we're going through this journey. We're like, okay, she got pregnant, but what's next? Is it going to be a boy? And then we are told, yes, that in fact she did have a baby boy. It underscores the faithfulness of God. Next part in the story here in these verses, is that John gets circumcised. Now again, if it's not weird enough having all of your neighbors in the same room with you while you're giving birth, this next part might get you. Because it was custom back then that the father, on the eighth day, circumcised his son. I thought cutting the umbilical cord was bad. All my boys are real thankful they didn't hand me the knife to do that. Guarantee that this was normal. This was thank you. This was normal. This was the tradition at the time. It was everyone's in there at the birth. And then everyone watches the dad make a very, very close and precise cut. This was tradition, and it's at this point that Zechariah Luke brings him back into the story. He says don't forget about good old Zechariah, because at this point Zechariah is a nuanced figure. I mean, luke sold you. He's a high priest, he got to go into the holiest of holies, he is the man and then he's disciplined because he didn't believe that God could do what he said he was going to do. And you can almost imagine then not being able to speak or for some of you, you can't imagine that but like not being able to speak for months and months and months and just watch how God's promise is actually coming to life. You can imagine Zechariah waking up and noticing that his wife looks a little bit more pregnant today and a little bit more pregnant today, and we're getting toward the end of the pregnancy and she gives birth and Zechariah can't celebrate with anyone. He can't say yes, he can't speak. It's all happening inward and it's at this point we continue to read that when the baby was eight years old, they all came together for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth said no, his name is his name is John. What they exclaimed there's no one in all your family by that name. So they gesture. They use gestures to ask the baby's father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet and that, to everyone's surprise, he wrote his name is. His name is John, and instantly Zechariah could speak again and he began praising God. Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean Hills. 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. She has the boy and, to everyone's surprise because now it's everybody in the room, this isn't a private conversation she gets to have with, with John. Like you, probably, if you have kids, you got to talk with your partner about what you want to name the kid. Or maybe you did and you told them this is what you're going to name them. But in this case, elizabeth says this is my son, john, and everyone goes no, we don't like that. Like, okay, who cares what you think? But so, and then in that culture, right, what do they do? If you didn't pick up on this very subtle, they're the same. Okay, woman, bring the man in here. Man, what do you want to name the time. They're like. They literally are just like we're going to get the guy in here because she's lost her mind. And and, zechariah, if you didn't catch it, they have to gesture to him, which points out that he couldn't just speak an easy detail to miss, if you're just reading over this. Apparently Zechariah couldn't hear for the entire time that he couldn't speak. They have to gesture to him. What do you? I don't know how, what do you want to name little boy? And he says bring me something to write with, because I'll be a lot, you know, that's a better place to start. And so he goes. His name is John. So if you can't hear, he didn't know what Elizabeth had already said. Elizabeth said his name is John, but if John, if Zechariah can't hear, he didn't know that and then for him to write down verbatim everyone else in the name of it's like alright, we go with this. Yeah, okay, apparently, and yeah, in that culture the kids were typically named after their fathers or grandfathers. We still have some of that in our society Today. But they go with the unconventional choice because this is what the angel Gabriel told her to do. So you're going to get pregnant. Promise one check. You're going to give birth to a boy promise to you got to name him John. This is the first time that they're asking Elizabeth and Zechariah to do something as the result of the promise. I think for a lot of us, as just a little sidebar here, we get the promises from God and we're really amped about the promises from God and then, once the promises answered, it's really easy to go back on our part of the agreement, isn't it? Like? It's really well, I got what I wanted, got pregnant, got a boy. Let's have a little Zech junior running around here, you know like. But that's not what they do. They remain faithful and what we learn is that Zechariah, through his period of discipline, is that he came out of the discipline a stronger man of God, a more faithful man of God, a more humble man of God. It took Zechariah nine months of not being able to hear, not being able to speak, to become more like Elizabeth and become more like Mary, which is a point I think Luke wants you to realize. His humility was forged through silence and deafness and it allowed him to reflect on the greatness of God's work around him. It was a transformative experience that culminates to Zechariah's hearing and speech coming out and when it is restored, the first thing that comes out of his mouth is worship. The first thing that comes out of his mouth is to glorify God. Toward the end of this passage, there's a question that is asked what will this child turn out to be? It's easy to miss in English, but Luke has actually stopped telling the story here. He's pausing. Luke gets to this point where, if he was verbalizing the story to his, what will this child be? He's looking to you now, the listener, the reader. Luke wants you to remember that only two of the three promises have been answered. Luke wants you to not forget that here. He wants you to think about it. Pretend you don't know how the rest of the story goes Two thirds of the promise. You could sit here, you know, yeah, god's probably going to answer the promise. Or maybe you're like, oh, I don't know yet, but that's Luke's point. It may not grab your attention, but Luke wants you to pause and sit on this. What does it signify? What are the implications? What are Elizabeth and Zechariah feeling at this moment? And let it linger. And then Luke, after taking that little sidebar with you, he goes back and says this is what Zechariah said when he's filled with the Holy Spirit. His father, zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave a prophecy. Praise the Lord of the God of Israel because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant, david, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all those who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant, the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies, so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. Understand that this part of the prophecy is not about John. He's going to make it obvious in a moment, but this is all about Jesus. As a result of Elizabeth being pregnant, as a result of Elizabeth giving birth, as a result of him not being able to speak here for nine months, the first thing that comes out of his mouth is not the desire of a Messiah but now the anticipation of the gift. It's here, guys. It's here, believe me. It's all around us. And he continues then to talk specifically to John and you, my little son, we'll be called the prophet of the Most High because you will prepare the way for the Lord, you will tell his people how to find salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of God's tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us to give light to those who sit in the darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide us to the path of peace. Now, remember, I pointed out last week and we'll point out again every character, every person we're introduced to in Luke's gospel, these first few chapters, is going to be noted as being filled with the Holy Spirit. And right here Zechariah is. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and so he joins Mary, he joins Elizabeth, he joins John, as being another person filled with the Holy Spirit, as evident by him giving a prophecy similar to what Mary did. And while Mary's prophecy from last week reflects on what God has done, mary's prophecy, if you remember, was this is what God has done and this is what he, who he, has been to us. Zechariah's prophecy is very present and, even more so, future oriented. There's the anticipation of the gift and he's saying this is what's going to happen. There's going to be redemption, he's rescuing us. It's going to be the forgiveness of sins. And, however, this is where it would get confusing to everyone else in the room, because if you heard these things and many of us still hear these things today you might think he's going to help us politically. He's going to help us from our oppressors, and I know in the United States we don't necessarily have like an oppressor over us, but if we're in another country and it's an oppressive regime, we think that when God comes in to save us, the bad king, the bad president, the bad government is going to be thrown out. And that is 100% what the Jewish people for hundreds and thousands of years thought. When the Messiah came, he would be like David, king David 2.0. He would take out not just Goliath, but he would take out societies of Goliath. He would come in and restore the Jewish people. He'd give them back their land, he would set up their earthly kingdom. And this is what the Messiah was supposed to do and this is who he was supposed to be. And Luke will spend the rest of his gospel dismantling that. Remember, luke isn't Jewish, so he gets to come in with a fresh perspective and say well, they were so ingrained to their cultures, their traditions and their heritage that they missed this. And Luke gets to come in and say this is actually what rescuing looks like, and this is actually what redemption looks like, and this is what the prophets of the Old Testament actually meant. And this is why people still miss Jesus. It's why they missed Jesus 2,000 years ago, because he didn't fit the bill. He didn't look how they wanted him to look. And in reflecting on this passage, theologian Darrell Bock underscores the surprising way that God uses his power. Though our God is awesome and powerful, he uses that power in surprising ways. He sends a king who leads, initially not with a sword, but by his word. He rescues not through a bloody war, but with a new way. He leads not just with might, but with light, his teaching and his life. And in our own yearning for societal and political shifts, zechariah's prophecy reminds us that actual change that positively impacts people's life does not begin there. It doesn't begin there. All of this sets us up for next week, in which we will read, finally, about the birth of Jesus, which is the most significant gift that any person can and has received. In light of all that's occurred in Luke's Gospel so far. What is about to happen next is going to be the biggest thing so far, and it's why, every year, christians from all over the world pause and reflect at Advent. And so, as brothers and sisters and Christian family all over the world are doing this morning, let's reflect on this gift that is Jesus' birth. Remember that desire A good gift begins with desire. I think that inside all of us there's a longing for wholeness and fullness and health. I think that deep down inside of us, we can all sense something's not right, something's broken. We're restless and we don't know why it is. And we look here and we look there and we think that if I just graduate with the degree, then I'll finally feel, but then it's a matter of getting the job. Then we get the job, then it's about getting the promotion and then, well, if I just have relationally, I just get married, and then maybe, if I just get married and I just have the kids, and it's always these things we're chasing. But it is that desire, that's something inside of us that only God can fill, which is this gift. So we have a desire for this gift and, in the hustle of 2023, thousands of years after Jesus walked the earth. A challenge for you and me is to anticipate this gift, because it's already been given. It was like given last year for Christmas. It's hard to anticipate it again, but what Advent calls us to do is to do that. Advent calls us to pause and to pretend like we don't know how the story ends. It asks us to put ourselves in the feelings and the emotions and the thoughts of those before Jesus. Remember the desire that there's this emptiness and now remember the anticipation. And so, if you can, this week, I would encourage you to find 15 or 20 minutes to sit in silence, like Zechariah, to not speak, to have complete silence and to see how God is moving in and around your life, and to build that anticipation. And then next week, on Christmas Eve, during our online gathering, we'll explore that when we do receive the gift of Jesus and it is an opportunity for us to connect with the essence of this season and if you've already made a decision to follow Jesus, part of receiving this gift is to be baptized, and then, finally, it's to enjoy this gift. So there's this desire. We know something's not right. There's this anticipation. Jesus finally came and then we receive the gift and now we get to spend the rest of our lives enjoying the gift, but I don't want that to make you complacent. I don't want you and me to treat our spirituality like a pretty common Pokemon card that gets thrown behind the dresser of my kids' bedroom. It is so easy for us to put our spiritual well-being on cruise control. We rely on past experiences. I was baptized, I went to a small group, I said a prayer, I did this, I did that. It's easy to let tradition carry our spirituality. However, let's heed the lesson from Zechariah's journey and avoid those pitfalls. You see, zechariah was a very spiritual person who knew the Old Testament, his scriptures, inside and out, and yet when he comes face to face with an angel of the Lord, it's disbelief. He doesn't believe that it can happen. Let's learn from Zechariah. I don't think you're going to not be able to speak or hear if you don't do this right, but let's learn from Zechariah that, no matter how long we have followed Jesus, no matter how much of the Old and New Testament we know, no matter how many church services we've been to, let's not get complacent. Let's always push further for continual growth. The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth echoes throughout time. That's why we're still talking about them 2,000 years later, halfway around the world? How many other couples from 2,000 years ago are we talking about today? In your everyday lives? We're not. And again, in the hustle and bustle of our lives, especially this crazy season, thousands of years away from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, you might have a difficult time finding yourself relating to the stories that we have been talking about, and yet that is nonetheless what Advent calls us to do. We are to slow down in this season in which society says speed up. We are to reflect in the season in which they tell us to look out for everyone else, and we're to cultivate a sense of expectancy and gratitude when it's really easy to say what am I going to get this Christmas? So let's be vigilant against the temptation to put our spiritual well-being on hold. Let's be vigilant against that. Let's not rely on past experiences and traditions and as we lean into the birth of Jesus next week, may your journey be filled with growth and joy and an ever-deepening connection to God.