November 26, 2017
Luke 1:5-20, 22-25
It is that time of year again. The holiday seasons are upon us which means there are Christmas commercials running nonstop. Have you seen the commercial where a man and woman are getting ready to go to her family’s house for Christmas dinner? The man walks in wearing and Oakland Raiders jersey, his favorite football team. She says, “You can’t wear an Oakland raiders jersey to my family’s house. So he quick takes off the jersey and underneath is an Oakland Raiders sweater that lights up. The next scene has them all at the family dinner table. He’s in his Raiders sweater. The rest of her family is wearing red Kansas City Chiefs jerseys. The bitter rival of the Raiders. As you look at the scene you can tell he doesn’t belong. The people sitting at the table knows he doesn’t belong. In fact, the grandma gets so angry that she gets up and stomps off. He would be a misfit in this family.
Have you ever been in a situation like that? You show up somewhere and you don’t fit in? You overdressed. Or maybe you underdressed and you look around and think, “Oh man. I don’t fit in.” It’s embarrassing. But have you ever not fit in societally speaking? All of society does one thing or has something, but you don’t. Have you ever not fit in because of your religious convictions? Or have you ever felt like a religious misfit? Like you don’t fit in at the church? Almost like you don’t belong there?
Today, we are beginning a new sermon series called the misfits of Christmas. What we are going to see is that the people involved in the Christmas story don’t fit in. As we look at each member involved we are going to see that they really had no business being involved or connected to Jesus’ birth. And yet they were. Why? Because God loves to use misfits. We saw that in our Scripture reading earlier. God doesn’t do things the way the world thinks they should be done.
The first misfit we are going to look at is a man named Zechariah. And what we are going to see right away is that Zechariah and Elizabeth were social misfits.
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
We learn a couple of things about Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. First, Zechariah was a priest, or a pastor. They were in charge of the sacrifices and the spiritual health of the people. Second. Look at how Luke describes them: righteous in the sight of God. Observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees. Blameless. There was following God’s laws and then there were following God’s laws. Zechariah and Elizabeth were over the top in keeping God’s laws and decrees. Not only could no one accuse them of breaking God’s ten commandments outwardly, but they also couldn’t accuse them of breaking any of the temple laws. That wasn’t something every Jew did. Neither the Romans nor the Jews could accuse them of anything. They stuck out like sore thumbs even among their own people.
Today, what would we call them? Jesus freaks right. They loved God and from the worlds stand point, they loved God too much. They didn’t fit in. They probably lived a life that looked like this: they didn’t get drunk. They didn’t glorify sex. They didn’t use foul language. They gave God 10% of their income, maybe more. They respected authority even though they didn’t agree with them. They didn’t cheat anyone or anything. They actually took a Sabbath off from doing any work and dedicated it to God. Talk about not fitting in with society.
But we learn something else here. Another way that they didn’t fit in with society. They were childless. They were unable to conceive and now they were very old. In that society, children were everything. That’s what you did. You got married and you had children. Everyone had kids. But they didn’t have any. They didn’t fit in. And here’s the cruel part: the perception at the time was that if you didn’t have children, you must have done something wrong and God is punishing you. And so they are living in a society that is looking at them wondering, “What did you do wrong?” Were they trying to make up for something they did wrong in the past? Is that why they are living so righteously? Otherwise, why isn’t God giving them a child?
That can creep into our mindset too can’t it? We live a life for God, we get closer and closer to him, and yet he doesn’t bless us. We see everyone else getting what we want, getting what we think we deserve and yet they aren’t living a life for God like we are. We start to wonder, “What did I do?” or “What do I have to do to make up for whatever it is I did so that God will bless me? If I didn’t do anything wrong, then why is God holding out on me? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers the way I want.”
They are social misfits. And one day, this social misfit goes to work and gets a surprise.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
So a little background. Part of the temple worship was that incense was always lit in the temple before God. There was a morning and evening lighting of the incense so that he always kept going. It was a high honor to be able to go in and light the incense. To figure out who would go in, they decided by lot. Modern day comparison, drawing straws. Thing is that there were so many priests that the chances of the lot falling on you twice in your lifetime was extremely rare. So this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So there he is alone in the temple because only the one the lot fell on got to go in. He walks up to the altar to get ready to light the incense and suddenly…
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid,Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
He looks. And an angel is standing right there. Fear seized him. No one else was supposed to be in the temple. Not only that, but an angel is holy and perfect. And when a sinful human comes into contact with the holy it is always terrifying. What’s the angels message? You’re going to have a son! God has heard and answered your prayer! Even at your old age, you will have a baby. But that’s not all. Here’s what this child will be…
14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah was well versed in the Old Testament Scripture. He knew God was sending the promised Messiah into the world. He also knew there would be a prophet who went before him to prepare the people. And what the angel just told him is that his child, his baby boy, was going to be the prophet who goes before the Lord. He will prepare the people’s hearts for the Messiah. Think about the emotions Zechariah must have felt. What would you feel? Excitement? Joy? Shocked? Speechless? Maybe you wouldn’t be able to wait to tell people you’re so excited. But look at how he responds…
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
– he doubts. He doubts. The priest, the pastor, the one who prays on behalf of the people. The one who maybe even teaches people to pray doubts prayer. And he says, “How can I be sure of this?” I can’t believe it unless I have a sign. See Zechariah was also…
A spiritual misfit
God sent his angel to make Zechariah a promise, but Zechariah doubted. The very God he believed in and was a minister for had a hard time believing the promises God made to him. Zechariah knew the Old Testament. He had seen how people of the Old Testament who were thought to be barren finally had children at an old age. In fact, Abraham was one of them. But even when it’s written down in Scripture and he saw how God can work, it’s too hard to believe it could happen to him. He knew God’s power. He knew his promises, but it was too hard to believe them for himself. But can we blame him? Think about it. He prayed his whole married life for a child, but never received one. Now he is old. Passed the child bearing years. His wife is said to be barren. This seems like an impossibility. And so the circumstances make God’s promise hard to believe. How can I be sure of this?
We can feel like that too sometimes can’t we? A spiritual misfit. We look around here and we hear people talking. Everyone says they will pray for you, but you’re not really sure prayer works. You have your doubts. Does God really answer prayers because he hasn’t answered some of yours the way you want? I know God’s promises, I see them in the Bible, but not sure I can believe they apply to me.
So, we feel like a spiritual misfit when we come to church because we see everyone else’s faith and we say, “I don’t believe these promises from God as much as others do. Everyone else seems to have a stronger faith than me. I have more doubts than certainties.”
Maybe one of those promises is forgiveness. You’ve been here a few times or maybe you’ve been here quite regularly, and every time you hear that your sins are forgiven, but how can you be sure of this? You don’t feel forgiven. You feel like a misfit.
Or maybe you’re here or listening online and you’re asking the same question that Zechariah did, “How can I be sure of this?” You’re asking that question because you’re not sure if you believe in God or not. You have your doubts. You’re not sure where you fit in spiritually speaking. You feel like a misfit.
We can relate to Zechariah can’t we? We know what it feels to be a spiritual misfit and not believe what everyone else seems to believe. And so he questions. Here’s how the angel responds.
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Think of the agony that must have been for Zechariah. He finds out his son is going to be the forerunner to the Messiah and yet he can’t tell a soul until he’s born. Can’t text or send an email either.
22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
God always keeps his promises.
Elizabeth was pretty excited wasn’t she? What made her the most excited? God had taken away her disgrace from among the people. Now the people would stop thinking negatively of her and instead praise God for the miracle of this baby.
But that’s not why we ultimately praise God. We don’t love and praise God because he removes our disgrace from among the people. We don’t praise him because he makes us fit in with society or blesses us with certain blessings. These aren’t the ultimate reasons that we praise God. We praise God because he’s removed our disgrace not from people, but from himself.
See, we have lost the good standing that we had with God because of our sin. Our thoughts, words, and actions that go against God’s will are repulsive to him. They are offensive. They have made us a disgrace to God. And God knows it just as much as we do. He knows those dark thoughts we have. He knows the words we want to say but don’t say out loud. He knows those filthy actions behind closed doors. They have made us a disgrace to him. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah were useless in taken away their disgrace, we couldn’t take away our own disgrace either.
But God took it away for us. We offended him. He removed the disgrace that offended him. And he brought you into a good standing with him again. He brought you into good graces once more. But how can we be sure of this? How can we know that our disgrace is removed from us? Christmas.
On Christmas, Jesus was born. The God of the world was born with the single purpose of becoming the disgrace for you. Though he was perfect, he took credit for every single sin that you committed. Every last one of them. Everything on your record that made you a disgrace in God’s sight Jesus said, “I did that. It was me.” And he died on the cross removing your guilt and bringing back into a good standing with God. He has removed your disgrace. Just like God looked at Zechariah, a misfit, and said, “Though it doesn’t make sense humanly speaking, I’m choosing you to bring in the forerunner to Jesus.” God looks at you and says, “Though it might not make sense to you. I choose you to be part of my family. Forgiven. Holy in my sight. Eternally loved.”
I don’t know where you’re at in your faith walk. I’d love to know so I can help you in it. I don’t know what doubts you have, but I pray you leave here today knowing that your disgrace has been removed. Your sins have been forgiven. You are loved and wanted by God. Know that he looks at you, he looks at his family, and he says about you, “You’re the perfect fit.” All because of Jesus. That’s what makes Christmas so joyful every year.
It is my prayer that as we leave here, that we continue to grow in this truth. Because that’s exactly what it is: truth. You may be a misfit. You may not fit in societally, you may feel like you’re a religious misfit, but you’re God’s misfit and he thinks you fit perfectly in his family.