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December 18, 2012, 9:00 AM

The Christmas Story: Elizabeth. Sermon Text

Luke 1:39-45  Advent Sermon #3 of 6

A priest and his wife lived before the Lord faithfully.  Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Serving him.  Walking before him in his ways.  Keeping his commandments.  They had no children.  Elizabeth, unable to give birth to any children.  Barren.Both Elizabeth and Zechariah were"advanced in years," so there was really no hope of ever seeing any children in their immediate family.

One day, as the old priest was serving in the temple before the altar of incense in the holy place, the angel of the Lord appeared suddenly before the old priest.  It startled him.  He was immediately fearful for his life in the presence of unfiltered holiness.  The angel's name was Gabriel, for he was the one who stands in the presence of God; his messenger, straight from the heart of the Throne.

Gabriel said, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord....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." (Lk. 1:13-17 ESV).

The child Gabriel speaks will become John the Baptist.   The child who will one day turn the hearts of his people to their God.  He will be the Elijah to come who announces the dawn of the ever-coming Kingdom of God.  He will be the one who cries"in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed...." (Isa 40:3-5 ESV).

But Zechariah hesitates at the news.  No way, that can't happen.  I am an old man, and my wife Elizabeth is an old woman.  And.  She is barren too.  "Nothing will be impossible with God,"but this is impossible!

As the last of his unbelief came out of his hear through the mouth, God gave him the gift of silence.  Zechariah became mute.  Unable to utter a single word until the child was born.  As Gabriel had spoken, so Elizabeth did conceive and deliver a child in her old age.  Neither barren-ness nor old age is an insurmountable barrier to God’s plans.

Elizabeth was the one, who, in a manner not unlike her son's future prophetic role, bore witness to the coming of the King to the mother of God, the virgin Mary.  Elizabeth magnifies the significance of the angelic proclamation:  When Elizabeth heard…Mary...[she] was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." (Lk. 1:41-45 ESV).

Mary responds to her encounter with Elizabeth in her own song of praise -- the magnificat.  She says that God has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.... (Lk. 1:51-54 ESV).

In thinking about these two women, Mary and Elizabeth, you can't help but see the unconventional wisdom and purposes of God being played out in these two lives for the world to see.  Wisdom and purpose that confounds the way the world thinks.  Wisdom and purpose that turns the world upside down and inside out. As the apostle Paul says so to the point:  The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:25-29 ESV).

God used Elizabeth, an older, previously barren woman to be the bearer of the Elijah to come.  He used her to be the first human messenger to notice the significance of Mary’s pregnancy.  Elizabeth wasn’t a religious professional like her husband Zechariah.  She wasn’t supposed to have any proficiency in the things of God.And as a woman, she certainly didn’t have a very high standing in the world of her day.

In reality, Elizabeth is a picture of the unconventional God who will come wrapped in human flesh from the womb of Mary.  He will be a King.  Of the royal line of King David, and yet born in the modesty ofa manger.  He will not grow up in the halls of privilege or leisure like the kings of his day.  He will grow up relatively poor and unremarkable in most respects.  When he begins his ministry, he is not accepted by the ones who should know better.  He is subject to all manner of abuse and human ill-will.

And yet, in this humble man, the world will be saved.

The journey of Advent continues.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

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