This is a sermon based upon an Advent sermon series by Dr. Reed Lessing.
There is no audio for today’s sermon.
Advent Midweek 1
November 30, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In our Advent meditations this year, we will be taking a look at family life. These will not be how-to sermons with tips and tricks for having better relationships with your relations, but rather we will look at some of the families surrounding our Lord’s entrance into the human family to see how God has worked with families in the salvation story, and how He works in yours also.
Tonight we will take a look at two radically different families. Herod, who gets only a mention in tonight’s text; and Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth and father of the John, the greatest man born of woman.
The Herod mentioned in tonight’s text is the first Herod. Born in 73 B.C., he’s already an old man by the time the events of the first Christmas come to pass. But in those years, Herod managed quite the infamous family resume.
He’s best known in the Gospel narrative as the one who ordered the execution of the Holy Innocents in an early attempt to kill Jesus and preserve his crown. Would you believe that this wasn’t the worst thing that Herod had ever done? His entire biography was filled with horrible and violent ideas all in an attempt to preserve for himself a posterity.
Herod was called “the Great,” but he’d be better labeled a monster. He was a politician by birth and he would do anything to amass power. And his family suffered because of it. Ten wives he married, and two of them he executed, along with three sons, so worried was he that they would take his throne. Someone once wrote that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son. When his father was poisoned by political opponents, he invited all the suspected conspirators to a dinner party and murdered them. No trial, just death. His reputation was so bad, then he feared no one would weep and mourn his death—I wonder why?—so he devised a plan to gather some respected leaders behind the walls of Jericho and lock them in as he neared death. Then he would have them all killed just before he died to ensure that people would weep at the time of his death. A real pater familias, Herod was.
So for us, Herod’s family presents two things. First, no matter how bad your family life gets, it will never devolve into the mess that Herod made of his family and life. But that’s not very comforting, is it? Just because Herod had ten failed marriages and murdered two of his wives doesn’t make your marriage struggles any easier. Just because his children were conspiring to kill him and vice versa doesn’t make it any easier to raise your children (even if they’re grown), or kids, it doesn’t make it any easier to be respectful and obedient to your parents, especially when they are being so strange. Herod’s phenomenal failures don’t make life easier.
And that’s because, second, Herod’s family is the worst of the bad that’s in all of us. His remarkably awful family is just an amplified version of every one of our families. If we were not restrained by laws and the threats of punishment (Herod was not because he was king and thought himself above the law) all of our families would turn out like his. Herod is an extreme example of what happens when you try to build a family by the will of man. His concern was not for his wife, nor for his children, nor for providing a nurturing and peaceful home. His concern was for himself and his posterity, as his final actions proved.
On the other end of the spectrum is Zechariah and Elizabeth. They also had their family struggles—particularly with infertility. They are a picture of how life never turns out as you planned it. The vision you have of the perfect, happy family with 1.87 children and a house with a two-car garage and white picket fence turns out to be a fairy tale. Zechariah and his wife were childless, which was a much bigger deal in their day than in ours. But they were not the first in the story of salvation to be barren. All of the patriarchs’ wives suffered from the same: Sarah (Abraham); Rebekah (Isaac); and Rachel (Jacob) all struggled with infertility. In some cases the husband tried to manufacture families to have a posterity, but those efforts usually turned to disaster.
Another example from Israel’s history is Hannah. She was without child and prayed diligently for one. She waited patiently and finally received the gift of a son, whom she placed into the Lord’s service. And Samuel became the great prophet who crowned Israel’s king.
Like Hannah (and also Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel in the end), Elizabeth and Zechariah waited patiently. Among all the virtues and good works that Christians talk about, patience is often lost. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, and doesn’t come naturally. Your children are your prime examples. Patience must be taught and cultivated, and it cannot become complete without God’s Word. And that’s finally what came to Zechariah. As a priest, he had the opportunity to serve at the high altar in the temple, and there he received a visit from an angel bearing God’s word that, although his wife was barren and they were advanced in years, she would bear a son.
And then he receives a word for himself and for every family that hears this story. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, and he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of righteousness, to make ready a people built for the Lord (Lk 1:16-17).
The son given to childless Zechariah and Elizabeth is given to build a new family. Not by the will of man, or for any person’s posterity, but for the Lord. He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and turn the disobedient to the understanding of righteousness. This is the message of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. It’s how God builds His family.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain (Ps 127:1). In the Bible, house rarely means four walls and a roof. The house is the household, the family. Families are not built by the will of man; families built that way will labor in vain. The Lord builds families in unexpected, often surprising ways, as He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. But their family points us to a greater family, the family of faith. For it is by faith—which is what completes repentance—that each of us, regardless of family, became sons of Israel. That is, we become part of God’s family.
God Gave Zechariah and Elizabeth a Family In Order To Turn Our Hearts Toward His Home
In the name of +Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard