Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Preparation: Part 1—Listening

Midweek Advent 1
December 2, 2009
Luke 1:1-25

The season of Advent is a season of preparation. Certain things need to be done with preparation. We expect a surgeon and his or her medical team to prepare rather than diving right into the surgery. Teachers need to prepare ahead of time what they will teach their students. While there are some things you can just dive into, many things, especially important things, need preparation. Too often we dive right into certain things without taking the time to prepare for them.

Advent is one of the times in the Church Year that helps us out in this area. When we think of the month of December as Christmastime we go right into the celebration of Christmas without taking the time to prepare for it. Most of December actually is the observance of Advent, with the celebration of Christmas toward the end.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas during all of December. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating it anytime! But there’s also nothing wrong with preparing for it. There’s value in it that you might not otherwise see if you skip the preparation and jump right into Christmas. The Scripture readings from Luke during these Midweek Advent worship services guide us in preparation for our celebration of the birth of Christ.

The first reading from Luke tells us about Zechariah. He is the father of John the Baptist. Although, if it had been left up to Zechariah, he wouldn’t have been John’s father at all. He wanted to listen to reason. It obviously was impossible for him and his wife Elizabeth to have a baby at their advanced age. Fortunately, God doesn’t always listen to us, in terms of doing what we want, and does what is best for us. So Zechariah, though he didn’t listen to the Word of God, still became the father of John the Baptist.

The first part of preparation, then, is listening. To be more specific, listening to the Word of God. Zechariah didn’t do that. His preparation for the birth of Christ would have been a whole lot better had he listened to the word of the angel Gabriel. As it was, he spent nine months of it not being able to speak. While his wife Elizabeth might have enjoyed this silence of her husband during her pregnancy, I imagine he wasn’t thrilled at being penalized in such a way.

It did drive home the point though: he was now in a better position to listen. Not being able to speak, all he could do was listen. I can imagine he spent many hours at nights going over that conversation he had had with Gabriel, the words the angel had spoken to him, his own refusal to take them for what they were—the very Word of God. If he hadn’t believed then, he surely did now, as he lay there night after night next to his elderly, but very pregnant, wife. He would be sure to listen from now on.

Do you and I have the same trouble today? We don’t need to receive the Word of God in a dramatic way as Zechariah did to hear it. We hear the Word of God just as he did back then. But do we listen? Do we believe the Word we are hearing? Or do we listen to reason? Do we go with that rather than the straightforward Word of God?

The problem with jumping straight into Christmas is that we miss all the stuff about John the Baptist. When God sent the Savior into the world He didn’t just up and do it. He prepared the world first. He sent John first. He sent the one who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [who would] go before [the Messiah] 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.”

God was preparing Zechariah, but Zechariah didn’t want to listen. We must listen. Preparing means first listening. God wants to prepare our hearts and minds for His Son to come into our lives. If we don’t listen how will we be prepared by Him? God came to Zechariah with Good News. “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 must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

If Zechariah had simply listened to this word from God he would have been prepared for what God was bringing about for him. God comes to us with Good News also. Will we listen to it? Will we trust Him as Zechariah should have done that He can bring things about in ways that we can’t understand but that are exactly what we need? In preparing to celebrate Christmas, we spend a period of time somewhat like a mini-Lenten season of repentance and meditating on what brought about God to send His only-begotten Son into the world.

It was, of course, His eternal love and mercy toward the people He created. It was love that moved Him to forgive our sins and restore us to eternal fellowship with Him. We need to acknowledge that we are in need of salvation. That apart from the Savior who came to earth at Bethlehem we stand condemned and will be judged so on Judgment Day when Christ returns again in glory.

But if we take some time to be silent before God and listen to Him we will hear His gracious word to us: we have full salvation in His Son through His life and suffering for the sins of the world. Amen.


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