Luke 1:8-20 (NLT)
One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
There is a lot happening in this passage but I want to hone in on one specific item: The Incense Offering. This offering was a way to lift the prayers of the people to God. It represented all those “asks” that the people had from day to day. Not just those general requests for “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men”, but more specific prayers as well. It was the embodiment of Elizabeth’s prayer for a child. It was the essence of the Israelite prayers for a Redeemer. It was the longing of the prayer for a deliverer.
Luke 1:5-7 (NLT)
When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
Charles Dickens begins his classic, A Christmas Carol, with these words, “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that… Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail… This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”
Luke also understands the power of a good introduction and gives us the same glimpse into the life of our two main characters of this story.
The Family of Christ – Matthew 1:1-17
Take a moment and read the passage Matthew from your bible.
Let’s be honest, some of you opened the Bible, saw the passage and closed your Bible without even reading it! Some of you didn’t even open your Bibles. Well, that’s okay. No one but Biblical scholars, Preachers and Rabbis read this section of the new testament anyway. The names are long and hard to pronounce, and the list isn’t really that important anyway…Right?
Wrong. This list, this Family Tree of Jesus, though likely shortened and altered over time, does something more than tie Jesus to the Priesthood of God. This short family history puts Jesus into context. It reminds us that he was part of a family. He didn’t just show up out of the blue. Jesus was flesh and blood.
Mark 1:4-8 (NLT)
This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.
John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
There’s something about the end of the year that makes one nostalgic. Perhaps it is the Christmas music playing on the radio. Or the crisp winter air that turns our breath into frost. Or it could be the decorations that light the night in festivity. Whatever the cause, we become reminiscent of the “Good Ol’ Days” every year at this time.
1 Thess 5:16-18 (NIV)
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Do you know anyone who has a perfect life? Do you know anyone who has it all figured out? Anyone breezing through the day without a care in the world? Neither do I.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
If you read through the 11th chapter of book of Hebrews, you find a list of the grand heroes of the faith. The charged verses tell the story of humble men and women who gave hearts, their minds, and their souls to the service of God. Many gave their very lives.
The Church often recognizes these folks with sainthood. But you and I know many who never obtained this elevated status but died in obscurity and yet changed our lives by their witness, their example of grace and love. All Saints Day is a celebration of those who have led us to the presence of God through their faithful words and deeds.
Today is an opportunity to think of those who took us to the throne; those in your own life, who are your own cloud of witness, living lives of faith and service.
Lord of all the Saints, both recognized and obscure, we are so grateful for those who have led us to your thrown, lived lives full of your grace, exhibited compassion and faith in each of their days. May we emulate their examples, honor their sacrifice, and be faithful followers servants to the Kingdom of God, that we might be a true witness to those in our own lives.