Archive for December 11th, 2008

Lasting Comfort

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The Second Wednesday of Advent
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA

Isaiah 40: 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD‘s hand double for all her sins.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.


INRODUCTION: Tonight’s service centers around Zachariah’s Song!  Does that seem a little odd to you?  We know that Marry has a song (it’s called the Magnificat), but what is all this about Zachariah Song?  Glad you asked!  Zachariah’s song is really prophecy that God spoke through Zachariah concerning a question that was asked about his son, John the Baptist.  Verse 66 in our Gospel lesson is where we find this question: “What then is this child going to be?”  The answer to this question is what provided great comfort to Zachariah, his wife, and latter their son John. 


What gives you comfort?  Maybe it’s your favorite pair of shoes or a well worn sweat-shirt? For some it’s a favorite food that Mom used to make.  I have a friend who swears that he finds comfort only at the seashore, and then I have a few acquaintances who say that there is nothing like a good stiff drink or two to bring real comfort.  All these things are ways that we use to relax, but…do these things really bring comfort during times of illness, death or crisis?  They didn’t for Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, but he did find comfort.  Tonight, I would like to examine a period in Zachariah’s life and his true source of comfort and then see if you and I can turn there as well.


I. The story of Zachariah is the beginning of John the Baptist’s story.  In our Gospel lesson, we join Zachariah, family, and friends on the eighth day of life for baby John, who would be called “the Baptizer.”   It is his circumcision day and that was a big event in the life of a Jewish male; in ceremony, it was much like our sacrament of baptism.  It took place in the town synagogue.  Walk with me in your minds eye, up the stone steps and into the stone building that was the local synagogue. 


As you enter, your eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the dark, but your eyes are drawn to some torches around a stone table, and you see a group of people gathered around that table.  You soon realize that this is the family of Zachariah the priest, and you are here to witness his son’s circumcision.  There’s his wife, Elizabeth, boy she sure is old looking, and then you remember that’s because she really is old.  What a miracle story that is.  Here is a woman unable to conceive throughout her childbearing years and now, well somehow she had this baby.  You feel happy for her and you also remember hearing a strange story about how this little baby was jumping for joy in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit.  Elizabeth told everyone that her baby was excited because Mary was also pregnant, but not just with any normal baby but with the Messiah!  Could this be true?  Well, at any rate, now that your eyes are beginning to adjust to the light, you see Zachariah, the proud father.  He’s been literally silent for the last nine months.  You heard that something happened to him nine months ago in the Lord’s Temple when he was performing his duties as priest.  Elizabeth said that the angel Gabriel came to him and said that a son would soon be on the way.  Zachariah doubted the Lord’s Word, so the angel said that since he would not accept the Word of the Lord, no words would be heard from his mouth either, that is not until the circumcision of his baby.


Well it looks like things are about ready to get started…there’s the Rabbi.  “I assume this baby will be named the same as his father” says the Rabbi.   But Elizabeth screams out, “No! He is to be called John.” The Rabbi quickly turns to Zachariah and says “But there are no Johns in your family, what is this woman talking about?!”  Zachariah signals for a writing tablet and at the same time he writes and screams out, “His name is John.”  So Zachariah gets his voice back just as promised and the baby gets a surprise name that’s a good one too!  You see, John means, “The Lord is faithful.” 

God has been faithful to Elizabeth and given her a son, and he has been faithful to Zachariah when he promised that his voice would return after the boy was named John, but He has been faithful about another promise that is far more important than any of this, and through the Holy Spirit, Zechariah is keenly aware of this.  Now, with his voice in the best form that it has ever been, Zachariah begins to sing a song about his child, but it is really a song about what the Lord will do first through John, and then through Mary’s Son, the Son of God, the Messiah.  It is a song of hope, it is a song of prophecy fulfilled, and it is a song of comfort!


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 knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [vs. 76-79]

Zechariah knew that the arrival of his son meant the fulfillment of every prophetic word that was ever spoken concerning the Messiah.  He knew that his son John was the fulfillment of our Old Testament Lesson tonight, found in Isaiah 40 that speaks of a prophet crying in the desert: “prepare the way of the Lord.”  ““Comfort my people!  Comfort them!” says your God.”  He knew that his son was the one that would come in the power of Elijah, drawing men to the saving work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Before John, a host of great prophets had been sent by God to announce the future coming of the Messiah; they told of a time when God would wipe all tears and save men from their fears and sins.  Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah said “Wait just a little longer.  The Messiah IS coming.”  But now, John gets to say, “Your wait is over-He IS here!  Your Savior has come and He will make all things new!  Prepare the way of the LORD!”  Zechariah knew that John would preach about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of not just the Jews but the world.  The Savior who delivers men from darkness and sets those held captive by their sins free!  John would preach that men could now, through the Messiah find peace with God!

II. Dear friends,  Zechariah found comfort in God’s promises now fulfilled, because he saw not only what the coming Messiah meant for his son John, himself and the Jews, but he saw into time and knew what it would mean for all the world, for all time.  He knew what it would mean for you and me.  He knew not only what kind of child John was, but he also knew what kind of child you and I would be because of the saving act of the Messiah…. precious children of God!  We are the righteous children of God not by our own reason or works, but solely because of what Jesus has done for us.  This is the same Jesus that John would continuously point to, and eventually die for.  This baby Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate in just two short weeks, grew up in time and obediently went to the cross for our sins; He died and rose to life again for you.  When he obediently washed in the waters of John’s baptism, God the father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  At your baptism, for Jesus’ sake, God the Father declared the exact same thing about you.  Because of Jesus, to whom John pointed, you are a child of God and an heir to eternal life.

III. As a child, Advent always struck me as strange; I would wonder, “Why are we waiting for something that has already happened?”  We wait for baby Jesus to be born to save us, but he has already come and saved us.  But now as an adult I have come to really appreciate the full meaning of Advent.  During advent we remember how the whole world waited for the messiah to come, and we do this by waiting in our own lives for our savior to come again and make all things new and right!  Just like those before us, we also wait in a world full of sin.  We need help to find comfort and hope.  We need healing from the many hurts that life dishes out, and God gives us that help and it is found in His Word.  God’s Word is living and active.  Through His Word, Jesus is here with us!  He first came to us in the waters of our Baptism and He promised that He would never leave or forsake us.  He comes to us in His Supper and says “This is my body, and this is my blood.”  “Through His Word He says, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.”  Dear friends, apart from the Word of God no real comfort exists. 

CONCLUSION: Tonight, may I suggest something new this advent season?  You know that during lent, we give something up.  I suggest that during advent we take something up, or pick something up that is, God’s Word!  Let us resolve ourselves to grow in faith by reading His Word and joining with God in prayer daily and regularly, and as we grow in faith we will also experience the joy and comfort that Zechariah found.