SUMMER REBOOT – this podcast was originally published in Advent, on 20 December 2018.
Hello and welcome to Thursday’s Podcast. It’s been great to dig into these famous scriptures – to reflect on the Christmas narrative – with you this week. If you’ve found these podcasts helpful, why not share them with a friend, share them on social media. Let’s pass the blessing on this festive season.
Today’s reading is Luke 1: 57-80 which you can hear read out in full at the end of this short thought. It focuses on the birth of John the Baptist. The key message for us from today’s reading is this – God keeps his promises.
We’re in the season of Advent. It’s a season of waiting, of preparation to celebrate the coming of our saviour Jesus –as a baby, God with us, and also as we look forward to Him coming again –to put all things right, to rule over the new heaven and new Earth.
We have two small children, Naomi and Isaac. Naomi is nearly three and she’s at the age now where she is just starting to get the concept of waiting. That these days in Advent are preparing her for something special that is coming. For Naomi colouring in her advent calendar (thank you Nursery), reading her First Christmas story (thank you Jo) and eating a chocolate (thank you me!) have been for her very simple ways of building towards the big day and with each passing moment the excitement seems to grow.
God’s people, Israel, had been waiting. They were waiting for the promised Messiah, God’s anointed one who would rule on David’s throne and free them from oppression. They were waiting to be the people who become a blessing to all nations – who would be known as great for God had chosen them. They were a people who had heard and knew the promises made by God to the generations before them but he had gone silent. 400 years passed since he had spoken through the prophets. Were these promises ever going to be fulfilled? Would the waiting ever end? To all intents and purposes it looked like God had forgotten his people. That no one was coming. But with the birth of John the Baptist, and then in an even greater way through the birth of Jesus – God’s own son – they did.
Here’s a truth for us to reflect on today: God keeps his promises. God may take his time but he keeps his word.
Zechariah, whose story we read about in today’s passage, in many way mirrors that of God and his people. Zechariah was old. He had spent his life faithfully serving God, praying for a child, a son to carry on his family line. He had grown tired in the waiting. Doubt had crept in. We read about this in Monday’s reading. Like God with his people, Zechariah now experiences silence – he is made deaf and mute by the angel Gabriel as punishment for doubting God’s message. But as Zechariah’s own eyes look upon his baby boy, something happens inside him. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. Suddenly God’s promises are being fulfilled in front of his very eyes. His mouth and ears are unblocked and a song is released.
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.”
Reading further on from verse 72: “He has remembered his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham”.
Luke’s Gospel account is carefully crafted together. In effect, we have two stories – God’s bigger story of him fulfilling the covenant, the promise he made to his people through Abraham, through David – in the birth of his son Jesus. And then also we have the smaller personal stories of ordinary people like Zechariah and Elizabeth. What’s expressed by Zechariah through his personal story is true also of God’s bigger story – that God keeps his promises to his people. He may take his time but he keeps them.
This Advent we wait. We personally may be waiting for something – for a breakthrough in a particular situation, for guidance, for something to change. We, as a nation, seem to be in a period of waiting, waiting to see what will happen with Brexit – and how that will all turn out.
Zechariah’s song reminds us that we are human – we have our doubts, but we are not God – and God keeps his promise. We, his children – chosen and dearly loved, need to remember the promises God makes us, we read them in the Bible – and we are to continue to trust him in the waiting. We learn through the Christmas story that our time frame and God’s time frame don’t necessarily match up. That we can’t judge God by our calendar. But he never forgets his promises. He keeps his word. He is faithful.
As we will see in tomorrow’s passage, with the birth of Jesus, God comes through. He always does. He fulfils his promises. He is good on his word. As we sing in ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ – The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Our response this day, this advent is to continue to trust, to wait, to look to him – knowing that the one who calls us is faithful and he will do it.
God, thank you for your faithfulness. That you keep your promises to your people. This day we choose to look to you, to remember who you are and what you have said you will do. In our day may we find space, moments to reflect on this and in those moments may we receive and know your grace, your hope. Teach us again how to trust you this day Lord. Amen.
READING: Luke 1:57-80
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’
They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbours were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him.
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us –
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.