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Series: Advent with the Gospels
Sermon: Preparing with Luke: The Sounds of Christmas
Text: Luke 1:5-2:20
Rev. Audrey Spencer
Last week Laura said, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
Well, this week we are in full-blown Christmas mode. We hear the carols being played on all the radio stations and in most of the stores. Most folks have their trees up and hopefully have a good start on the shopping.
In the church, we are mid-way through Advent. Drawing near to the celebration of the birth of our Saviour.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty partial to the gospel of Luke during the season of Advent. It’s the one that contains the stories we associate most with the season.
It tells of the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary. It has the beautiful words of Mary’s song, the Magnificat.
And it has the story we hear most often on Christmas Eve: the shepherds’ visit by the angels and the joyful announcement of Jesus’ birth.
Do you remember Linus from the Peanuts Christmas pageant? He even memorized it!!
Luke is unique in his manner of writing in his telling of the Christmas story.
Mark wrote with urgency and a sparse narrative style, Matthew wrote with an ominous tone and John wrote with a poetic style.
But Luke wrote with a song in his head. Nearly every character in Luke’s Nativity story breaks out in song at some point.
Luke is kind of like a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: Something happens to someone, and then they sing about it.
Our hope as we hear the words in Luke’s gospel is that we will hear the melody and our hearts will be open to the soul-stirring sounds of Christmas.
Will you allow these songs to deafen the stress of deadlines and to-do lists, and allow you to listen for the overwhelming hush of a faint baby’s cry and the glorious songs of angels in the sky.
Let’s consider three characters and the songs they speak to us.
We will look at Zechariah first. Zachariah was an elderly priest who lived under the rule of King Herod.
He and his wife Elizabeth were quite elderly and childless, despite their most earnest prayers.
One day as Zechariah was in the Temple performing his priestly work, the angel Gabriel came to him, saying: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name
him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes … He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah …. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1: 13-17)
This was good news!! You would think Zechariah would be singing songs of joy!!! Shouting “Hallelujah”
But instead he said: “How can I be sure of this?” Lord, my wife and I are old. You’ve got to be kidding! How will we ever live to raise a child?”
Now before we go criticizing Zechariah, let’s just be honest about our questions to God. Isn’t his reaction similar to our kind of disbelief and skepticism we have in December when we are preparing for Christmas?
“Peace on Earth?” There’s nothing peaceful like that nowadays.
“This is a season of hope?” I can barely keep my life together.
“Joy and gladness?” For me? How is this possible?”
And so, like Zechariah, we say, “How will I know that is so? How could this be?”
The angel responds to Zechariah: “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you ….. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen” (Luke 1:19-20)
And right then, the priest lost his voice.
But in the next nine months, something happened to Zachariah.
In the quiet of his mind, he time to think and reflect. Who knows what he was doing or NOT doing during this time. But what we do know is that he changed.
It turns out that the silence from the angel was not a curse after all, but the remedy.
After the child was born, a disagreement over what the name of the child should be. Some said it should be Zach Jr., while Elizabeth wanted to name him John.
Zachariah who could still not speak, picked up a tablet and wrote, “His name is John,” just as the angel had told him.
At that moment, Zachariah’s atrophied vocal cords burst into new purposeful life.
And Luke records an amazing song of praise that Zachariah offered up to God for the amazing gift of son and acknowledges the impact he will make on the world.
Consider these words from Zachariah’s song in verses 76-79.
“You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.”
Do you think there was anyway Zachariah would have come to this conclusion without the time of silence?
Do you think there’s a lesson to be learned from this man who at first was so distracted by his present reality that he could not conceive what God had planned and how that would change his life and others?
Silence is a teacher. I pray we all try to unplug from all the Christmas noise this year.
The second track on Luke’s Advent playlist is probably the most famous song in the New Testament.
It’s sung by Mary, the mother of Jesus.
When we meet the young girl, who Laura said last week may have been only 12 or 13 years old, she was engaged to Joseph.
Later we find out that she is a relative of Elizabeth, which gives us the first indication that the songs of Mary and Zachariah are somehow going to be linked.
The same angel Gabriel visited Mary with the same news that she was going to be a parent. And we hear the same words of “how can this be” from Mary that we heard from Zachariah.
Zachariah balked at the news because he was too old. Mary balked because she was too young and had not had relationship with Joseph.
Different reasons, but still skeptical.
We’re not sure why the angel silenced Zachariah and not Mary.
Maybe because of the potential scandal and even danger for Mary, that he treated her with more understanding.
Whatever the reason, the angel seems to have given Mary a second chance.
First, Gabriel tried to offer an explanation that was a tad more theological that biological: “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1: 35).
Not the stuff from your average junior high health class is it? And maybe Mary was unconvinced.
So then, the messenger of God went a step further and offered proof, a sign which Mary could look to for reassurance.
He tells the story of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
And ends with the words, “Nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1: 36-37)
This must have tipped the scale for Mary, because she then said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said”. (Luke 1: 38)
What we see here is that before Mary’s pregnancy became a blessing to the world, Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a blessing to Mary.
Mary runs to the Judean City where Elizabeth lived and we see the tender encounter between these two women.
Elizabeth offers these words of encouragement to Mary: “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry … Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her” (Luke 1 :42-45)
Both of these pregnancies illustrate the nature of miracles in the Bible.
Elizabeth was showing Mary that when one is blessed by God, one must be a blessing for others. That’s what Elizabeth became for Mary, so that Mary could become the same for the entire world.
That, finally, is what set the stage for the most beautiful song in the entire New Testament. A song that, at first, seems fairly autobiographical:
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored, because the mighty one has done great things for me”.
But it doesn’t take long before there’s a major shift in the content and focus of Mary’s song.
The first verses are about what God has done for Mary, and then changes to what God will do through Mary.
“Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” (verses 49-55)
Mary’s song is critically important to the Advent story.
The season just is not complete without it.
It’s a song with only two verses: first about Mary being blessed by God, and then about God using Mary to be a blessing to others.
That’s an important message for those of us waiting for a Jesus who is already here!!
We’ve already been given the gift of Jesus. So it’s our responsibility to be the bearers of that gift to others!
We can be the encouragers to others as Elizabeth was or we can be the Marys that God works through to the world around us.
Then, of course, we can’t leave out the song of joy provided to the shepherds by the angels.
Luke 2: 1-20 has become the staple Scripture for Christmas Eve services, and it’s hard to read this passage without listening to it with the child-like wonder of Linus van Pelt in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as he speaks the words beginning in verse 8.
For many of us, the angel’s song is full of marvel and spectacle.
Even the key words of their song pop out like lights in the night sky: Good News ….. Savior ….. Glory ….. Peace.
But notice how the song begins? “Don’t be afraid”
Sound familiar? These are the words of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, Mary and now the Shepherds.
The shepherds’ sole job was to care for the sheep. If they left them the sheep could be in danger by the wild animals. I’m sure angels popping down out of the sky was a fearful moment for them.
They were lowly shepherds, not soldiers. There was a lot to fear in the world around at that time.
Yet, up against the dark night sky and the canvas of suffering and sadness, that the angelic choir sang a melody that would echo for all eternity:
“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14) –
I think todays’ world needs to hear a song of hope such as this; don’t you? In a world that seems so harsh and lacking love and compassion. In a world of so many doubts and fears.
Maybe this is why Luke’s version of the Christmas story was written:
To provide songs that strengthen the soul in the midst of suffering.
This is the holy task that God calls the church to.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, our tactics to combat evil must be born of a different standard then we see in the world of politics or military.
We are to claim the songs of peace, comfort, and courage, daring to perform them where the world most needs to hear them.
We can’t hide behind the comfort and security of our safe places.
A sacred harmony that pulses with God’s unconditional love, and that calls us to forgiveness.
The church has a song to perform, and we have instruments to play. And God has stepped onto the podium, baton in hand, directing us.