Making Sense of the Silly Season

A Time to Hope

Read: Luke 1:67-80

Our world is a dark place.

We have seen riots erupting in Ferguson, Missouri.

We have seen further threats of terror from ISIS militants.

We have heard of renewed push to change the legislated definition of marriage.

And it is not just this week.

We are still waiting for the release of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls.

Will we ever see this day?

Despite unparalleled prosperity of some countries, many still live in terrible poverty.

Will this ever change?

Despite relative law and order in some places, there is great violence and corruption in others.

Will it ever be any different?

Zechariah sang his song 2000 years ago. The world was a dark place then, too.

Israel, a once great nation, lay in ruins. Over the centuries it had been conquered by four major world powers, and now languished under the dominion of Rome.

There were still people of faith, people who trusted Yahweh, and who were waiting for the consolation of Israel, but they were few.

It was as if the light of the world had been turned out. As if the voice of God, once heard through the prophets, had fallen silent. No word from the Lord had been heard for 400 years. As if the prayers of the faithful seem to bounce off a locked and bolted heaven.

Yet, these people are singing.

Zechariah is singing!

““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” (Luke 1:68–69, NIV)

How can they sing in that situation? What is going on?

They are singing because God has entered their world!

This mess. This brokenness. This darkness. God has spoken into it.

God has spoken to them. These broken people. This dark world.

And he has said to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son – even in their advanced years – and this child will prepare the way for the Messiah.

But before we move on: Think about what was happening just before God spoke.

Think about what it might have been like the day before any of this took place.

Plenty of people would have been thinking that following God was a waste of time. That God was either deaf to their cries, or that He did not care. With their world as a dark and hopeless place, it seemed their dreams of God coming to their rescue had come to nothing.

And yet, God had not forgotten. He was planning his grace intervention. He had his plan, and was following it. But until he revealed himself, few could see that.

That’s a truism, I know. But it’s also important truth: God is at work, but so often we just do not see it.

The truth is: God was not waiting for people to get their act together. God was not waiting for the world to improve, or for his people to be more faithful, or for there to be more light in the world.

God just entered their mess, their darkness. He just waded into this failed, fallen and fractured people, and spoke words of grace.

““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” (Luke 1:68–69, NIV)

That did not mean that everything was OK, and God has just forgotten about human rebellion. But it is a powerful reminder that no matter how bad things might seem, that we can still trust him, we can still place our hope in him. That he still has us, and our world, in his loving hands.

No matter how bad or broken you are, no matter how busted your world is, no matter how much evil you see in your world, God has not forgotten. He just wades in and enters your mess. A hope that brings mercy

No matter how bad or broken you are, no matter how busted your world is, no matter how much evil you see in your world, God has not forgotten.

And when God enters your mess, he brings hope and mercy (v.68ff):

He has come to his people and redeemed them…

He has raised up a horn of salvation…

He has shown the mercy he promised in his covenant…

Surprisingly, Zechariah speaks of these things with certainty, as if they had already happened. A redemption, a payment of ransom that would set people free. A salvation, a rescue, so powerful that nothing could resist it or frustrate it – that’s what a horn symbolised. A mercy – gracious response to undeserving and needy people – which he has shown and promised to his people since creation.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there is no anger, no rage or judgement, no punishment for unfaithfulness – that would come, but not in the manner they expected.

Zechariah is saying: here is the God who shines light into our darkness and brings grace to our sin.

You want to know who God is? This is who God is. This is his plan. His covenant of grace.

When Adam and Eve rebelled in Eden, he waded into their mess and sought them.

Later, He made a promise to a weak, wandering, childless Abram

“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”” (Genesis 12:3, NIV)

When Abram and Sarai were well beyond the years of childbearing, this Lord

“…took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:5, NIV)

After that, in Genesis 17, the Lord declared that he would be Abraham’s God and the God of his descendants forever.

God has never waited for us to come to him. His covenant mercy shows him to be the initiator of grace. The giver of life.

Later he revealed his name to Moses as

“…The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”” (Exodus 34:6–7, NIV) 

So, how do we make sense of what we call the silly season? By making ti confession that it is not the silly season. It’s the Saviour’s Season.

Christmas is a time of hope. A hope inspired by a God who through his Son wades into human fallenness and rebellion. He enters our mess because he is merciful: at the core of his nature is grace, mercy, compassion, love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness.

When God spoke into the world’s darkness, into a humanity that rejected him, it was a song of mercy. A song consistent with his character, age old covenant promises of grace. The Scriptures are the record of how God brings mercy to people despite
their fallenness and sin. Despite the fact that at core they are rebels and enemies of God.

This is why Zechariah sang. And it is why we sing.

It is why our Christmas songs are filled with peace, joy, grace, faithfulness, hope and love. It is why you can be here today, with all sorts of mess going on and God says, “I am with you. I will rescue you. I will show you great mercy. Turn to me, love me, trust me.”

A hope that means rescue

How can that be – when we are so broken, our world is so dark, and rebellion against God is so brazen and blatant? Does God just ignore human evil, the heart’s corruption, your sin?

No.

He wades into it.

He meets it.

He addresses it.

He deals with it comprehensively in His Son, Jesus. Look at our passage speaks of rescue (v.71):

“salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—” (Luke 1:71, NIV)

We have an uncanny capacity to simply see our difficulties as merely circumstantial and external.

At one level, Zechariah would have thought of the great world powers of his day: Rome, and before them, Greece. And before them, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt.

It’s true, isn’t it? We have an uncanny capacity to simply see our difficulties as merely circumstantial and external.

If we could just get rid of the Romans.

Or the Greeks.

Or the Egyptians.

If I could just change my circumstances.

My husband.

My finances.

The people who frustrate me.

My boss.

My health.

This merciful God, who wades into our mess, who acts in mercy, wants us to know today that the problems we face, the darkness of our world, is more than just circumstance.

The problem is the heart. Your heart. My heart. The core of humanity.

And here this gracious God is announcing that he is going to deal with sin, the core problem of the human heart.

Zechariah’s son, the one we call John the Baptist, would

“…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.”” (Luke 1:77–79, NIV)

John the Baptist would prepare the way for Jesus. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Good Friday we proclaim his death.

Why? Because The cross of Jesus is how God dealt with the sin of the human heart. The Cross is how God addressed the darkness of the world.

Jesus hung on a torturous cross to bear the sin of his people.

Jesus suffered in God forsaken agony for our rebellion.

Jesus became the punishment that brought us peace.

Jesus lifted the curse from our shoulders.

Remember how thousands of years before, when Yahweh revealed his name to Abram, he had said the guilty would not be left unpunished? A righteous God must punish sin. But our gracious God punishes sin in an astonishing manner.

Paul the Apostle says

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.””
(Romans 1:17, NIV)

Luther’s reformational discovery, was that this righteousness wasn’t a holy anger that humans had to appease in order to win divine love, it was a righteousness which God gave by grace to those who believe his Son.

So, God did not leave guilty unpunished: he poured that guilt out on Jesus so you would be free. The chains of your sin are broken. Your guilt is atoned for. Your sin is gone. And now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Don’t you even ask yourself, “Is God listening? Does he care? Does he know or understand?”

Zechariah’s song points you right to Jesus, and Jesus’ Cross shows how seriously God takes the fallenness of your heart and your world. You cannot possibly look at Jesus and wonder whether God is doing anything about your mess or the mess of this world.

This Gospel in Jesus is why Christmas is a time of hope.

Jesus: God with us, Immanuel. He is light into our darkness. He is grace into our fallenness. He is redemption from every sin that binds us.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
(Isaiah 9:2, NIV)

This Christmas, we sing of this hope, this certainty of life in Christ.

We encourage and bless one another with this life in Christ

And we carry this good news into our world.

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1 Comment

  1. Study Questions: A Time to Hope | A Sermon & A Study

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