We need to be like the 84 year old grandmother who fiercely maintained her independence and lived alone in the old family home. Her 4 children lived n the same town, but she rarely called them except in emergencies. It was with some apprehension, therefore, that one of her sons drove to her house one morning in answer to her phone call. When he arrived she said she suspected that there was a burglar in her bedroom closet, since she had heard noises in there the night before.
“Why didn’t you call me last night?” he exclaimed.
“Well,” she replied, it was late and I hated to bother you, so I just nailed the closet shut and went to bed.”
That’s the kind of attitude a Christian can have when faced with the impossible. Nail the door of fear shut and go to bed in calm assurance.
On this second Sunday in Advent, I want to talk to you for a few moments about peace.
A group at Duke University did a study on “peace of mind.” Factors found to contribute
greatly to emotional and mental stability are:
1. The absence of suspicion and resentment. Nursing a grudge was a major factor in unhappiness.
2. Not living in the past. An unwholesome preoccupation with old mistakes and failures leads to depression.
3. Not wasting time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change. Cooperate with life, instead of trying to run away from it.
4. Force yourself to stay involved with the living world. Resist the temptation to withdraw and become reclusive during periods of emotional stress.
5. Refuse to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.
6. Cultivate the old-fashioned virtues—love, humor, compassion and loyalty
7. Do not expect too much of yourself. When there is too wide a gap between self-expectation and your ability to meet the goals you have set, feelings of inadequacy are inevitable.
8. Find something bigger than yourself to believe in. Self-centered egotistical people score lowest in any test for measuring happiness.
Have you ever seen Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Christmas classic. The 1947 novel became a movie the same year, earning the author an Academy Award for the Best Original Story. The film itself was nominated for the top picture. Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But who could ever forget the child actor, Natalie Wood, who won the hearts of viewers as Susan Walker, the little girl whose doubt in the existence of Santa Claus is transformed by her association with Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle.
"Miracle on 34th Street stands beside It's a Wonderful Life as one of the two most enduring of America's holiday movies," says Frank Beaver, professor of film and video studies at the University of Michigan. "As with Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street draws its continuing appeal by reaffirming ideas of faith in a modern, often-cynical world."1
"Reaffirming faith in a modern, often-cynical world" is what our business is all about as believers—not a faith in St. Nicholas or Father Christmas—but in the truth of the enchantment and wonder of the Almighty God of the universe who came to mankind as a Babe in a manger. So many today don't buy it—or at least they seemed unmoved by the reality of Christmas in the way they live their lives. The net effect of a lack of faith in Christ is to turn off the color to life; to become like little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, whose childhood was dour, expressionless, unromantic, and hopeless.
Clip from 34th Street? (Christmas faith)
Unbelief turns off the color and turns down the sound of life as it was meant to be lived. But, faith in Christ, and faith in the God who changes things, who interrupts our lives with the glorious news of salvation by repentance and faith in Jesus, turns on the sound, lights up the soul, and causes mute men to shout for joy!
Just ask Zechariah. Some of you are asking right now, who is Zechariah? Today we are going to learn who he was and why he sang a song that made it into the Bible.
Let's look at Zechariah's Song. As we examine this Song in light of the Singer's life, let us note that this is a song of peace.
The Song of a Heart at Peace
The father of John the Baptist, the holy prophet of God who preached repentance and faith and announced the arrival of Messiah, was a "righteous" man.
“Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” Luke 1:6 NLT
The old priest and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children and had been praying for a child. But, time and age seem to conspire together to close the door on that. He was a good man. He was a godly man. In a dramatic scene, while Zechariah was ministering in the Temple, an Angel of the Lord told him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would have a child—not just any child, but a child named John whose birth would signal a new day of rejoicing for many.
Peace Came in the Silence
What did Zechariah do? He had an answer that sounded like Natalie Wood's character before she believed: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years?"
The Angel said, in effect, "I just came from God! That is how you know!" So, as a result of his unbelief, which is named as such by the Angel, Zechariah is made mute until the Word of the Lord is accomplished.
Mute. The sound turned off in his life. The judgment of God for his sin of unbelief matched the character of the sin: emotionless, expressionless, stilled, and lifeless. More importantly it left him with the ability to reflect on his life, on the call of God and what God was doing in preparing the way for the Messiah. As you will see in a few moments, when Zechariah regains his speech, he was ready to burst forth with a song!
Peace Came Through Scribbling out a Name in Faith
Every aspect of the Word of the Lord was being brought about. Elizabeth was with child. She was filled, we are told, with the Holy Spirit as was the child within her. Unbelieving Dad is in quiet judgment, but by this time quite aware that God's Word is coming true.
In a dramatic scene, the last part of the prophecy of the Angel is unveiled. At the circumcision of the child, where the "Naming Ceremony" occurs, the priest asked, "What name is given this child?"
Zechariah couldn't speak, so Elizabeth did. Everyone expected that his name would be Zach, Jr., but Elizabeth surprised everybody and said, "No, he shall be called John."
Names were important to the Hebrew people. There was no one in their family with that name. They questioned her about it. While the debate was going on, Zechariah interrupted, with some scribbling on a tablet: "His name is John."
When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”
61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. Luke 1:59-64 NLT
I love that! The scribbling was an act of faith by a man under judgment. From there, we see in verse 67 that the Holy Spirit came upon him and he preached like he had never preached before.
"Praise the Lord God of Israel, because He has visited and redeemed His people."
Some of you have seen what God has been doing in your lives. Faith for you today may be a little scribbling as you name what God has done for you. You may not be ready to give a great testimony, but you can scribble out, "Jesus Saves Sinners!" You may not be ready to preach any sermons or even sing a song, but you ought to be able to scribble out and name what happened to you, "God was in it! God did this! God is on my side!"
Peace Came in a Song:
Upon regaining his voice, Zechariah we read was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about the New Covenant that was on its way. Embedded in this song we find the answer and secret to real and lasting peace.
It’s the Song of a Heart Set Free
Socrates taught for 40 years, but his life and teaching have made no songs. Plato taught for 50 years, but he did nothing to cause the human soul to blossom with life. Yet, Jesus came and lived for only 33 years on this earth and taught only three years. His teachings, as well as His Person, His Promises, and His Power have inspired the souls of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci to paint glorious scenes; the hearts of Dante and Milton to erupt in poetic verse; and the Songs -- the greatest music and Songs of the Ages came from those whose lives were touched by Christ: Haydn, Handel, Bach, and Mendelssohn. All of these men composed to the praise of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is said that Jesus Christ changed Mendelssohn's music from a minor key to a major key.
This is the picture of what happened to Zechariah. The music of the Lord invaded his soul. It is the music of wonder and joy and freedom when the Word of the God comes in power to announce that salvation is at hand.
There is nothing I desire more than to help turn on the lights, to turn on the color of living and see unbelieving souls burst forth with a song of a heart set free and at peace. Let this Advent Song be yours today.
The first part of the Song is filled with worship for the Covenant God of Israel. The praise of the Lord is seen as Zechariah proclaims, "He has visited and redeemed His people."
Now for any who think that old Zechariah was interested in political redemption for a nation, please look at the following verses:
“We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.” Luke 1:74-75 NLT
In verse 77 he preached/sang about the knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of sins and a light to escape from the shadow of death. This Song praises God for deliverance from sin and the reign of the devil in the world. This is the announcement of a giant movement on the divine eschatological clock. A new era is upon mankind with the coming of Christ.
Now all of this together shows us a new way of thinking. Zechariah was not sure what God was up to at first but after a few months of silence he now proclaims God’s plan.
His was a heart set free.
It’s the Song of a Mind Made Clear
He has sent us a mighty Saviorfrom the royal line of his servant David, 70 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago. 71 Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant— 73 the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.
In verse 69-73, in this praise portion, Zechariah affirmed what Mary understood: The covenant of grace. Zechariah wove together the promises to David (v. 69), the promises to the prophets (v. 70), and the extent of the promises (since the world began v.70).
This reveals a mind made clear. Now Zechariah believed. His mind, previously clouded by religion and a theological approach that underestimated the love and grace of God, finally understood. His boy, John, would announce the arrival of the Redeemer. God's Promises were here!
The minds of men without Christ are clouded. But, more germane perhaps, is the fact that the minds of so many religious folk are clouded.
• By a failure to grasp the theme of Scripture
• By a dependence on religion, ceremony, where the reality becomes buried beneath the symbol
• By a deep-seated unbelief in the supernatural power of God and inability to see past their own experience, born out of a lack of faith in the God of Scripture.
Revival historically has been an act of God that destroys this sort of thing and transforms religion into a living relationship with the living God. People began to "think thoughts after God" because their minds are made clear. God is calling us to a vibrant Father, to an expectation of the power of God in our lives. He is calling us to clear our minds of bad, wrong, erroneous thoughts that lead to dull living if not downright sinful living.
Christ came. He was born. He died. He rose again. And nothing can be the same again. It’s the song of a mind made clear.
It’s the Song of a Soul Revived
74 We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. Luke 1:74-75
Zechariah's songs, if you will, speak of the practical and metaphysical (transcendental) effects of the birth of Christ to the nation of Israel. Practically he says the key to victory over enemies is the coming of Christ. Transcendentally he says that this release signals (v.74) the ability to worship God without fear, in holiness and righteousness.
What is Zechariah singing about?
The coming of Christ releases the true believer from the tyranny of others to live before the face of the Lord. This is what Paul was writing of in Romans 8:15-17:
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
And in Galatians 4:4-7:
4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,