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December 06, 2015

Sermon Luke 1:18-20 . . . “It’s a Miracle!  Mute Zechariah”

 

“It’s a Miracle!  Mute Zechariah”

Luke 1:18-20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Those who have disabilities never cease to amaze me.  So much is against them, yet they often become stronger than the rest of us!

Think of Marla Runyan, for example.  When she was only nine years old, she developed Stargardt’s Disease, a form of macular degeneration, that left her blind.  

But she wouldn’t let it stop her.  She went on to become a three-time national track champion in the women’s 5000 meters and won four gold medals in the summer Paralympics.  She even became the first legally blind paralympian to compete in Sydney, Australia.  In 2001, she published her autobiography, No Finish Line:  My Life as I See It.

Jean-Dominique Bauby was a well-known French journalist as well as an author and editor of the French fashion magazine ELLE.  But in 1995, he suffered a massive heart attack and slipped into a coma for twenty days.  When he woke up, doctors discovered he now had a rare neurological disorder called “Locked-in syndrome.”  His mind was perfectly normal, but his body was paralyzed from head to toe.  The only thing he could move was his left eyelid.

What would you do if you were him?  He wrote a book, letter by letter, by blinking when his secretary recited the French alphabet over and over again.  He called it, The Divine Bell and the Butterfly.

And, of course, think of American author, political activist and lecturer Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind person to ever earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In spite of her great disabilities, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, peace and workers’ rights.  She traveled to over thirty-nine countries, met every U.S. president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson, and was friends with many famous figures like Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.  There’s hardly anyone more remarkable than Helen Keller.

And in the book of Luke chapter 1, as the story of Christmas unfolds for the very first time, we meet yet one more with a peculiar disability--a mute, a priest, a man whose name was Zechariah.

It all begins with this:  “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.  And he had a wife named Elizabeth.  And both were righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”

It was early in the morning and the time of sacrifice had come.  As the massive doors of the temple slowly swung open, a three-fold blast from silver trumpets awakened the holy city of Jerusalem to another day.  Within her gates, some fifty priests were already preparing for worship, ensuring that all was worthy for the presence of God.

And among the eight thousand or so priests who lived in the land of Israel, there was one named Zechariah, who was called, appointed, to minister in the temple that day.

He was different from the rest.  Most priests lived in and around Jerusalem or even as far away as Jericho.  But Zechariah chose to live in the hill country of Judea.  Had he lived today, you’d probably see him driving an old, beat up, Ford pick-up and tending a little farm out in the country, a sort of country-bumpkin priest.  He was of the order of Abia, and was one of the oldest who still served the temple.

And as he came to Jerusalem that day, there was a gleam in his eye, for his fellow priests had bestowed on him a great honor—to burn incense on the golden altar in the Holy Place.  To be chosen for such a duty was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  But little did he know that, from that moment on, his life would never be the same.

And as he ascended those ancient stone steps, there were many thoughts that raced across his mind.  Would he remember his words?  Would God find him righteous?  Would he do all that needed to be done?  

The act was simple in and of itself.  All he had to do was to offer a prayer, sprinkle a little incense across fresh hot, glowing coals, then pause to offer the same benediction his forefather Aaron had once pronounced:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

So as the faithful gathered outside, old Zechariah slipped ever so quietly through the golden doors and into the Holy Place, dimly lit by candlelight.

For a moment, he was completely alone, steps from the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God.  And as he tended the coals and the fire, smoke ascended toward heaven, the multitude bowed low and Zechariah prayed, “Remember Lord, remember Your people, remember Your promise.”

But suddenly, as he opened his eyes, he became fully aware that he was not alone.  “It’s not possible!” he thought.  “No one is to enter the holy place as incense is offered.”  

Then came the voice.  “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you will call him John.”

His heart almost stopped.  And as he tried to understand who this creature was and why he had come, he answered, “How can I be so sure?”

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to tell you this good news.  And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Imagine, for a moment, that one of your best friends is a billionaire.  And down through the years, he’s been generous.  Over and over again, you’ve seen and experienced his kindness.  Once he bought you a car and helped pay for your education.  He even took care of some of your unexpected medical bills.  He’s always been faithful and he’s only shown you kindness.

Now, out of the blue, your billionaire friend said he plans to take a luxury vacation and he wants you and your family to come along.  What would you say?  What would you do?

Is that the moment to doubt?  Is that the time to ask to see his bank accounts so you can be sure he can cover the cost?

To want proof would be to deny his ability to pay and to doubt the sincerity of his love.  In fact, given everything you know about him and all that he’s already provided, doubting his word would be a grave insult.

So it was for Zechariah.  He had devoted his life to a God he knew was powerful, whose resources were unlimited, who had proven over and over again through all of Israel’s history that nothing was too hard for Him.  And now, as Gabriel, God’s messenger, who stands in His presence, whom He has sent to tell this good news, he asks, “How can I be so sure?”  No wonder the angel said, “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words.”

When we think of Zechariah, we can’t help but think of others, like an old woman named Sarah.  When the Lord told her that she, even in her old age, would have a son, what did she do?  She laughed.  “I didn’t laugh,” she said.  The Lord answered, “Yes, you did.”

Or think of a warrior named Gideon, laying a scrap of wool on the threshing floor.  “If the wool is wet and the ground is dry,” he said, “then I will know You will save Israel by my hand.”

Nothing is impossible with God.

It’s funny, if you think about it.  Six more months would pass, and the angel Gabriel would appear once more—to a woman in a little town called Nazareth, to a girl named Mary.  And he would say:  “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

And what did Mary say?  She didn’t say what Zechariah said.  She didn’t do what Zechariah did.  He was stubborn, she was curious.  He said, “How can it be?”  She said, “May it be.”

What can we learn from all this?  Know that no matter who you are, no matter what you do, God can use you.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer, a fisherman, a housewife or a country bumpkin priest, God can use you to do amazing things.  He used Zechariah and Elizabeth.  He can use you too.

And a second thing we should learn is, be willing.  Don’t ask like Zechariah did, “How can it be?”  Instead, say like Mary said, “May it be.”

All this does beg the question—why did God make Zechariah mute?  He could have struck him blind or deaf or afflicted him with leprosy.  So why did He choose to make him mute?

Maybe because he would bear a son who, as the prophet Isaiah said, would be the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way for the Lord.”

Or maybe it was because, after him, there would come One even more powerful, Whose sandals John was not even worthy to untie—Jesus—the Word of God made flesh, sent to save us from our sins.

So how does this story end?  

Old Zechariah went home that day with quite the news for his wife, Elizabeth.  And, sure enough, nine months later, she gave birth to a son.  And as he held him in his arms, he named him John.  Then he lifted up his new-found voice and, by God’s grace, sang a song of praise:  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people…and you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways…to give light to those who sit in darkness…and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

All thanks be to God!

Dear Father, as we begin this Christmas season, forgive our doubt and unbelief, build faith in our hearts, and help us to boldly trust in You.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

 

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