I recall as parents how we waited for Elizabeth to combine sounds into her first word.
But I couldn’t tell you what that word was.
According to a Baby book I recently received when my parents downsized their home, my first words were Da-da and Ma-Na at 11 months.
Not only are first words important, last words are also significant.
Many point to the few occasions when Jesus taught His Disciples between the Resurrection and Ascension as having increased significance.
When I think of last words, I recall the pastor who was called to the hospital to visit a congregant.
The man had a breathing tube so he wasn’t able to speak.
He was quite ill, but not expected to pass so soon.
The pastor was somewhat surprised as the man took his last breath while the preacher was bedside.
Just before the man breathed his last, he quickly scribbled a note and passed it to the preacher.
Noticing the man’s distress, he quickly folded the paper an put it in his pocket as he continued to pray fervently for the man.
A few days later the preacher was speaking at the man’s funeral when he recalled the note in his pocket.
As an inspiration to those gathered the Pastor artfully set up the moment talking about a die man’s last words written on a note that he had not read since the man passed it to him.
As he slowly unfolded the paper and read aloud to the mourners, “You’re standing on my oxygen hose, preacher”
Today’s story involves the first words of a man who has been silent for about a year, only communicating through gestures and scratches on a tablet.
Some things we can only learn through circumstances – Mary.
Some things we can only learn through silence – Zechariah.
And some things can only be learned as we painfully move through a situation.
I’ve been struck this week in multiple settings about the growth that is often only found through pain.
Monday morning I received a text message that Mitch B was involved in an accident, but no details about what type of accident.
I can only imagine the emotional pain associated with the changes that are occurring in his planned future.
Then I saw a post on my Facebook wall from a dear friend owning up to the pain of burying his wife while they were in the process of adopting 2 foster children.
It has amazed me of a man who was practically agnostic, now speaks openly of faith in God.
I began preparing for this message and found myself exploring the awkward silence of Zechariah during Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
One of the resources I read about the pain connected with God’s interactions with human history took me to the pain experienced by Joseph in the later chapters of Genesis before Israel and his family saw the provisional hand of God at work.
After months of anticipating his son, the first words out of Zech’s mouth are not about his son, they are about his God.
Luke’s history begins with Zech unable to speak a blessing on the people and ends with Jesus blessing the people in 24:50.
So, in essence, the whole Gospel is about the blessing of God—blessing from and blessing toward the triune God.
The blessing from God is put in the context of a childless older couple being given a promise by an angel.
Paul-Gordon Chandler writes, “[Luke] lets us know the implied promise that something is coming, creating an atmosphere of great expectation.”[i]
“Many people at the time saw childlessness as a curse, and believed that someone in the family had probably committed some secret wrong.”[ii]
In our family during 2022 I was gifted the family silver and my grandfather’s carving knife.
I learned 2 weeks ago that it is silver plated (not sterling) so don’t get any ideas about breaking into the parsonage and becoming rich!
This came to me because my grandparents had 2 sons and 2 daughters.
My father was the eldest son and had me then my three sisters.
My uncle had 3 sons, but not of them produced a male to carry on the Thomas name.
One day that gift will go to my son who is the only one in the 4rd generation with the ability to pass on the family name.
In our nation the family name is not as important as some cultures of the world, but we see how easily a family name can be ended.
Since the return from Babylonian servitude, the temple had been rebuilt, sacrifices had resumed, prayers went up, but the prophets have been silent and God remained distant.
In this reality they longed for the fulfillment of the promised Messiah who would come near and be among them and deliver them.
Today churches can be found in most towns with a few hundred people, offerings are given, prayers are said, but many feel like God is a thousand miles away from our cities, our children and the conscience of our countrymen.
We don’t need religious rites.
We don’t need inspirational words.
We don’t need more traditions.
What we need is the Lord, God of Israel, to come near his people.
Transition: Just as last week Mary spoke in the past tense of things yet to happen, because they are just as sure if they’ve already come to pass; This week we see Zechariah holding his son and because his son was born, because Mary was pregnant with the promised Messiah was as sure as if it had already happened.
A Coming Messiah dispels Doubt (1:68-71)
A Davidic Messiah (v.69b)
God worked through the relationships and governments of humanity
David represented Israel’s greatest King, and is revered as such to this day.
Sometimes God works directly and supernaturally (as He did with Mary), sometimes God supernaturally works through the actions of man (in John’s conception to elderly parents) and sometimes God works sovereignly through the actions and choices of humanity (as He did through David’s line).
A Prophesied Messiah(v.70)
While God was working in specific settings, He was always working toward a bigger plan.
Started in the Garden, ends with Face-to-face fellowship.
The promised Messiah would do 3 things (vv.68 & 71): come near (visit), deliver (redeem) the oppressed, and save from enemies.
Transition: Before the tribe of Judah was taken away in exile, God promised through Jeremiah that His mercy had not gone away.
Finally after 400 years of hopeful anticipation, Zechariah states that mercy is once again on display.
A Comforting Messiah displays Mercy (1:72-75)
What Do we Want?
When Do We Want it?
Justice – deliverance from oppressors is more about God’s goodness toward His people, than it is about wrath or justice now.
Those things WILL happen (as we saw in our study through Revelation), But justice is not yet poured out due to His patience and mercy.
Over the last week I have seen several times the sentiment, “If the Apostle Paul saw the church in America, we’d be getting a letter”
Actually, There is a new Artificial Intelligence website ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) that permits a user to ask a question and computers will output a response (without human input).
It is like a Google search, but the answer is made up by computers.
This week someone asked “Paul” to write a letter to America.
The first paragraph reads, “I Paul, and apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, am writing to you with a heavy heart and a stern rebuke.
I am grieved to hear reports of the state of the church in your country, and I fear that many of you have strayed far from the path that Christ has set for us.”
You may have seen the billboard campaign a few years ago with supposed messages from God.
One of the billboards read “Don’t Make Me come down there”
What Do we Need?
When Do We Need It? (1:71-74a)
While we may be tempted to think God’s first concern would be punishing all wrongdoers, that was NOT Jesus’ primary task in His first coming.
Make no mistake, He never tolerated falsehood, but He wasn’t driven by wrath either.
His wrath is delayed until His 2nd coming.
3. Mercy - is what our hearts long for.
Kyrie Eliassonhas been a prayer of people for centuries.
Our response to Mercy (1:74b-75)
Service – we serve God, not ourselves
Holiness - separate ourselves toward God
Righteousness - act rightly toward others
Transition: Zech moves from the metanarrative to the present situation.
Because, like Mary, God was mindful of his heart’s desire to become a father.
As God gives Zech a son, Zech states clearly that service toward God is a proper response.
A Commissioned Messenger distributes Truth (1:76-79)
Painful Silence produces a Powerful Witness (v.76)
God used months of silence by Zechariah to increase the effectiveness of his son’s message that would break 400 years of eager silence.
Because they had waited since Nehemiah rebuilt the walls and Ezra began the Temple rebuilding, John’s message came to receptive ears.
Knowledge of Salvation (vv.77-79)
Some people know a little about a lot of things, some people know a lot about nothing and some people know everything about everything.
Because He is merciful, He saves His people
To these who think they know it all, God sends messengers who increase the knowledge of the tender mercy of our God.
This gives light to darkness
This gives guidance toward peace.
This season reminds us all to extend a little mercy.
On Wednesday I had a 45 minute phone call with my bank (not one of our great banks) trying to reverse charges on an online order when I had been scammed.
I was ready to name the institution that had wasted nearly an hour of my time and in the end told be to call back on Friday.
When I opened Facebook to warn the world of the injustice I had endured, I was reminded of the logo I had posted the day before as my profile picture.
It was amazing how a silent reminder of the tender mercy of a manger in Bethlehem extinguished the fire of my “righteous” anger.
Transition: Zechariah’s song speaks of the truth that God visited (and will visit) those He created.