Penny and I went to a movie Friday night. I wanted to go to the Mr. Rogers movie but Penny vetoed that. She said we're going to a movie that won't make us cry. I said OK, and she was right, it was a fun escape of a movie.
Every now and then I need an escape. A way to rise above or step out of the pace or stress of life. That might be through a movie out with Penny. A party with friends. Or a retreat on my own. And sometimes it's by getting lost in a story. One that transports me to another place or another time.
One of those stories, for me, is the Lord of the Rings. I've lost track of how many times I've read it. It always carries me away into that great story and allows me to walk with its characters. It always inspires me and captivates me.
Well, that feeling of being transported to another time and another place is exactly what we hope will happen over the next four weeks. Through another remarkable story. A true story that you've heard so many times.
A story with intrigue and pain. A story with joy and hope. A narrative full of miracles and stars and animals and angels and ordinary people and a baby getting caught up in a cosmic mystery.
This entire story is the weaving together of the ordinary and the extraordinary, The common place and the bizarre. The normal and the peculiar.
This month we want you to be dazzled by the supernatural. We want you to be awed by the power and love of God. But we also want you to be comforted by this remarkable true tale.
That in the midst of your complicated life to be reminded that God works in ordinary people to do extraordinary things. People just like you.
We'll look at the very ordinary Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds and the magi, Mary and Joseph, and, of course, baby Jesus himself. We hope that you will see that just as God revealed himself and his plan to these dear ordinary people, he does so today in and through you. So relax, grab a Bible and settle in and let's read it. THE most remarkable story in all of time.
Luke 1 page 849
There are two versions of this story. A brief version as told by Matthew in his gospel and a longer more detailed version complied by an investigative reporter named Luke, written to a man named Theophilus.
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus,4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God's eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord's commandments and regulations.7They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
The story begins with two ordinary senior citizens.
Ordinary person, what is your stigma? What is your private pain? Your shame? What is the cloud? What have you been praying for for so long?
8One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week.9As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
11While 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.
Suddenly the mystery, the wonder and weirdness begins - This is the first of many odd, supernatural events in this whole story.
So, This was a miracle. A terrifying one. Zechariah was overwhelmed!
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.
What prayer? The one he had been praying for ever, I want a son.
John - ""Yahweh is gracious"" was a sign of the prayer being answered
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story let me explain something about this child John. You would think that the story of the birth of Jesus would begin with Jesus not some random baby named John. But this baby is and was crucial to the story of the birth of Christ.
You';ll see why as we continue...;
14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,15for 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.""
So, baby John will be extraordinary and peculiar - every phrase Gabriel utters about little John paints an incredible picture:
Great in the eyes of the Lord
Never touch wine - Set apart in his lifestyle we learn more later about his eccentricities
Powerful influence on his nation - a prophet - moral influencer - a leader who calls out the best in people not their worst.
He would be a bridge over 400 years of anticipation
One last thing I want to point out:
Luke 1:15 He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.
Watch for this theme again in a few minutes.
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.""
Zechariah,being an ordinary and normal person is skeptical - do you blame him?
We like Zechariah are uncomfortable with the mysterious are we not?
Could it be that we are unwilling to accept the possibility of God's intervention?
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.""
The angel makes Zechariah mute but possibly deaf
Was this a punishment? Sure feels like it, and maybe just a part of the whole mystery.
It sure made me wonder about my own lack of faith in the miraculous. And God's reaction to me.
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long.22 When he finally did come out, he couldn't speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.
23 When Zechariah';s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 ""How kind the Lord is!"" she exclaimed. ""He has taken away my disgrace of having no children."";
It's at this point that the Jesus part of the story begins, we'll look at this next week. But jump down to verse 39, after Gabriel appears to Mary.
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary's greeting, Elizabeth';s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ""God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.""
Little baby John was filled with the Holy Spirit and now Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit!
At the mere sound of Mary's voice baby John jumps in the womb and Elizabeth breaks out in prophetic words ! (how did she know that Mary was to be the mother of our lord?)
This is heaven intersecting earth, God filling an ordinary person and doing something extraordinary!
Skip down to verse 57 and let me summarize the rest of the story.
Elizabeth gives birth to John.
Zechariah is given his hearing and speech back.
Everybody in their town is in awe.
And there is a postscript in Vs 67 67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: (which became a song)
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.
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.""
What a story, and it is only the beginning! What do we take from it?
This is how God works.
God takes ordinary people, fills them with his Spirit and does remarkable things through them.
He will do that with you.
Are you open to it? Are you ready for it? To be filled with the Holy Spirit?
May I pray that for you right now?