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Hope for Real

Published: 5 months ago- 10 December 2023
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Big Idea: Luke looks for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s promised hope is.

I was playing around with Google Earth the other day. Bit of fun. I started out zooming in on our house, checking it out in 3D. Then I zoomed in on other people’s houses – have a sticky beak. Kind of fun and stalkerish all at the same time. I noticed that Google have added colour to make everything look good. On Google Earth my lawns are green and the trees are leafy.

Not always been the case. Google photographed the house of some friends of ours years ago. Usually, their house and garden were immaculate. However, on the day that Google chose to take the shot our friends had the entire contents of their garage out on the lawn – kids toys everywhere. All they could do when they saw the images was shake their heads.

I zoomed in on their house this week but someone has tidied up all the mess now.

In our passage, Luke is zooming in on a household as well. This was 2000 years before Google so he isn’t using Google Earth but what he is presenting is GOSPEL EARTH!

And Luke isn’t embarrassed about the mess. He is not trying to make everything look better.

In fact, Luke goes looking for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s offer of HOPE really is.

Luke wrote his gospel, his account of Jesus’ life and ministry to give us certainty.

Read v3-4

3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke has investigated, interviewed and interrogated and now he presents his findings so that we might have certainty.

What we’ll see is that amid the mess the promise of Christmas is HOPE.

In v5 we read that Luke’s cursor hovers over a certain couple who live in a certain place at a certain time.

Read v5.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are pedigree people of God. Their lineage goes back to the Exodus. And they are practising people of God.

Read v6.

And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are the perfect picture of God’s people seeking to live God’s way.

But remember, Luke goes looking for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s offer of HOPE really is.

And “street view” reveals the mess. The mess here is that their house is not actually as messy as they would like it – there are no kid’s toys scattered across the lawn

Read v7

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

There is an element of sadness at their place. It’s too quiet, not the life they had hoped for when they were first married. No pitter-patter of tiny feet, No family portraits drawn in crayon and stuck on the fridge. No messy teenage bedrooms. The kitchen has not been left in disarray with an empty pantry and the fridge door open. No P plates on the family car.

And they are well advanced in years = old, humanly speaking there is no HOPE.

But you see Luke goes looking for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s offer of HOPE really is.

This is a story of HOPE.

Christmas is marketed as the season of HOPE. That is the recurring theme of all those bad Christmas movies flooding our streaming services at the moment.

There are heaps and they are bad – Jo and I are working our way through most of them.

They are built around a formula – two people happen together in a small town, butt heads and then fall in love in time for Christmas day.

I read an article that suggested that in the stress and mess of life these “bad Christmas movies” are designed to make you feel good and market Christmas as a time of HOPE.

Even without bad Christmas movies, HOPE is the message of Christmas, even before it started.

That HOPE is not found by getting distracted from the mess, but through God’s work in the mess.

Luke goes looking for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s offer of HOPE really is.

For those familiar with the Bible narrative news of a godly barren couple, too old to have children often signals a coming work of God. Here are echoes of Abraham and Sarah – Isaac

A godly barren couple to whom God made a promise that through them the whole world would be blessed.

So, the scene is set and it’s set firmly in Jewish family tree, in Jewish territory and in Jewish tradition.

In fact scholars will tell you that in chapters 1 and 2 Luke, a Greek physician, a Gentile is using a very heavy Hebrew or Jewish accent.

Aussies do this too sometimes. Maybe when we are talking with tourists, g’day cobber, ‘ow ya goin’?

In using such strong Hebraic accent Luke is highlighting a backstory, he wants to intensify our certainty.

Luke is being very clear that long ago God made promises to his people. And despite their lack of trust and their persistent sin, God remains faithful. His promises are about to be fulfilled.

Hope is coming. Amid the mess, HOPE is coming.

So Luke, still logged into GOSPEL EARTH now PANS ACROSS to the Jewish temple in the heart of Jerusalem.

If you were a Gentile visitor to Jerusalem 2000 years ago you would not be allowed to get too close at the temple.

I was in Jerusalem about 10 years ago. At that time there was a fair bit of civil unrest in the city so I wasn’t allowed on the Temple Mount. Guards with machine guns said no!

But in our passage, Luke takes us in.

We get to watch as Zechariah the priest is burning incense before God (v8-9).

Even here we have a hint of HOPE. Despite His people continually failing to love, trust and obey him, God has made it possible for his people to approach him.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for a priest. (carrying an Olympic Torch) Not every priest got to do it.

In 1 Chronicles 23 we read that there were 12 divisions of priests, one division for each month, with 2000 priests in each division.

I’m not sure how many there were in Zechariah’s day but we read that the lot fell to him (v8-9) and we are supposed to see that this is not a coincidence, this is God at work.

While the people outside praying (v10) may think that they are approaching God, taking steps toward him, it is God who is taking steps toward the people. He sends a messenger, a whopping big angel.

The passage doesn’t actually say that it’s a whopping big angel. But I’m certain this angel didn’t look like the decorative angels adoring our Christmas trees, because when Zechariah sees this angel he is afraid (v12).

But the angel says don’t be afraid.

I have Good news.

v13 … “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard [God listens, he cares, he is powerful to act], and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son… [God deals with his people individually, or here as a family].

v16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,

v17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the … disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

The Lord is coming and like Elijah of old, this promised baby will grow to be the messenger who prepares people to meet the Lord.

Good news for the people of God – God is taking steps to address their sin and brokenness.

God is breaking into history, the supernatural breaking into the natural, our world and through the promised birth of a child God will restore hope to his people.

Luke goes looking for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s offer of HOPE really is.

Luke is a Gentile doctor. He is not Jewish but Greek, and his background is not theology but science. He has investigated thoroughly. And these are his findings.

Science proves it – Christmas is about HOPE. What is impossible for people to achieve on their own is achieved through the intervention of God. What is impossible to know by investigating creation is revealed by the God of Heaven. The supernatural breaking into history.

That’s actually a good summary of the first Christmas. The supernatural breaking into history. The incarnation, God the Son come to earth as a baby man. And it is good news because he will save his people from their sins. God the Son steps into the mess to offer us HOPE.

This is a very personal HOPE. This good news addresses us as individuals because God treats us as individuals.

The SBS TV station used to have the tagline, 7 billion stories, one at a time.

Zechariah and Elizabeth felt the sadness and in their culture the shame of a childless marriage.

God promises them a son. Good news. God addresses their sadness, v14 he will be a great joy to you; God promises to heal their brokenness, address their shame. Some of you know the hurt and sadness that childlessness causes.

For others childlessness may not be your sadness. It might be that children are the concern in your life.

Or your brokenness may take on a different shape altogether. Nagging doubts. Persistent Depression. It could just be the tiring rut of the daily grind. Or the continued struggle with sin.

But the good news of the gospel is HOPE.

Hope for you personally.

God did not have to prepare people to meet Jesus by answering the prayers of an old childless couple. He did promise 750 years beforehand to send a messenger. But the word angel means messenger. God could have sent an angel to announce the coming of the Saviour. He could have used another child born to another godly couple. But in his great love he blessed this couple (v23-25) and through them addresses the brokenness of his people.

God dealt with this couple experiencing the mess of the sin and brokenness of their world and brought HOPE to them and HOPE to everyone else who would believe in the coming Saviour.

Caitie’s nativity scene. We always argue about which figure is Joseph – Caitie has insisted since she was little that it is one of the shepherds. But we know which one is Jesus – right in the middle.

In Jesus, all our brokenness and sadness is addressed and ultimately overcome. In Jesus we have HOPE. He is the one at the centre of the Nativity, the Christmas story.

God the Son, stepping into the mess of life to save us.

Forgiveness from God – the burden of sin lifted. Confidence for the future – eternal life. A hope in this life no matter what shape it takes. That can be yours personally. The God of all creation deals with each of us personally. Know this for certain.

Luke goes looking for the mess to show us how wonderful God’s offer of HOPE really is.

That is the Good News of HOPE for a broken, messy world that we celebrate each Christmas.