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The four weeks of advent remind us to live in hope, not fear. Today’s post begins a four part series on the “fear nots” of the Advent season. This is an important reminder because fear is all around us these days. There seems to be a contagion of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression fueled by uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic. It has interrupted every aspect of our lives.
In Luke 1:13 the Jewish priest Zechariah had his religious duties interrupted by a message from God: “The angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.'”
Amid the political reality of Roman oppression, the whispered threats of insurrection, the fevered atmosphere of prophetic expectation, Zechariah’s traditional religious observances must have provided him with a degree of comfort. He was offering incense and leading a gathered congregation in the prayers that were prescribed for that day on the Jewish calendar.
As the smoke curled from the censor, a symbol of prayers arising before the God of his fathers, and as Zechariah prayed for the deliverance of Israel and for the coming of the Messiah, suddenly an angel interrupted everything! This was not conventional, comfortable or customary. Verse 12 says “he was startled and gripped with fear.” Well who wouldn’t be?
No prophetic voice had been heard in Israel since the time of Malachi 400 years before this. God’s messenger appeared to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son who will be a prophet. He would grow to be a man who would be “great in the sight of the Lord.”
The angel said other things about this son of Zechariah. The most important thing he said may have been the statement that this son, John, would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5 which tells of a forerunner for Messiah, “a voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; … And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'”
John was to be the prophet who would prepare the people for the coming of the Christ!
Zechariah’s initial response was not praiseworthy. He questioned the word of the angel. For that he was silenced and sidelined for the next nine months. The Lord gave him time to grow in understanding as he watched the unfolding of these strange and startling events. The story ended well. If you read the first chapter of the gospel of Luke you may see how Zechariah overcame his fear and accepted God’s good news.
It was good news of acceptance and grace. John’s assigned name means “the Lord is gracious.” The name the Lord chose for John the Baptist was in itself a message of grace for Zechariah, for the nation Israel and for the rest of us. Grace is the theme of the New Testament. Grace was the message of Jesus.
It was the good news that God hears the prayers of his people: “Your prayer has been heard.” What prayer? It was the prayer that the priests and prophets and people of Israel had been praying for hundreds of years, a prayer for the coming of God’s anointed Messiah. God was now on the move, answering that prayer, fulfilling prophecy. It was time for the advent of the Messiah, the Son of God. Zechariah’s son John would prepare the way.
It was good news of salvation. Zechariah got his voice back when his son was born. He uttered a prophecy that John’s ministry would give the people “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). This would be made possible through the merit and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and only because of the free grace of God.
It was the good news that Messiah’s coming would fulfill the ancient prophecy of Malachi: it would be like the rising of the sun (Luke 1:78; Malachi 4:2-5).
This good news freed Zechariah to serve God “without fear” (Luke 1:74). With this kind of good news for the Advent season, we have to conclude, this is no time for fear. Let’s ask God to liberate us from anxiety and replace fear with the truth that Jesus has come and he is coming again!
The same God who heard the prayers of Zechariah will hear our prayers too. Come, Lord Jesus!
Pastor Randy Faulkner