A Father's Promise

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  December 5, 2021

Due to technical difficulties, the recording of the service is not availble.

Luke 1:68 – 79
The subject for today’s sermon is A FATHER’S PROMISE which might seem like an odd choice for the second Sunday in Advent when the theme for the day is peace. 
However, one thing we know for sure is that throughout the Scriptures we find God’s promises of peace and we have the blessed assurance that God’s promises are true.
It is back in the book of Isaiah that we read, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3).  While in the book of Hebrews we read, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  Coupling the Old Testament with the New means that we can absolutely put our hope in the promise of peace that our faithful God provides. 
And so, keeping that thought in mind, I want to invite us to focus our attention on the subject: A FATHER’S PROMISE.
Perhaps you may remember me sharing a story quite some time ago about three little girls who were playing together.  The first little girl had a handful of change which she counted before declaring that she had 13 pennies.  The second little girl also had a handful of coins which she counted out and then announced that she had 14 pennies.  The third little girl began to count her coins and as the other girls watched, she counted 14 pennies before saying proudly that she had 15 pennies. 
This confounded her friends who had been watching and counting along with her and were sure that she only had 14 pennies.  So, they told her to count again… which she did.  And after getting to 14 pennies, she again said without hesitation that she had 15 pennies.
Having reached an understandable level of frustration by this point, the little girl’s friends asked her why she kept saying she had 15 pennies when they could all see that she only had 14 pennies.  That is when the little girl told them that her father had promised to give her a penny when he got home from work that afternoon… and she was already counting her father’s promise as having been delivered.
I wanted to share that story to remind us that like that little girl, we, too, can count our FATHER’S PROMISES as having already been delivered as well.
And so on this second Sunday in Advent as we think about the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, let us take a look at A FATHER’S PROMISE that was delivered in a rather unusual way. 
In our New Testament lesson today, we find the story of an older gentleman named Zechariah who was a priest.  He was married to a woman named Elizabeth who happened to be a close relative of Mary, who would become the mother of Jesus.  And all things being equal, he was a man who likely should have led a rather peaceful life. 
He and his wife Elizabeth are described in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel as people who were “upright in the sight of God and observed all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (see Luke 1:6).  Presumably they were doing all the right things in life, and yet, for some unknown reason, Zechariah and Elizabeth had no children… a situation that would likely have caused them great pain and even brought them a certain amount of shame… because in their culture, being childless was considered to be a sign of someone not having God’s blessing.
But all of that began to change one day as Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly duties at the temple of the Lord.  It was his turn to go into the Holy Place to burn the incense and while he was in there, the angel of the Lord appeared and brought Zechariah some news that must have been rather shocking to him… because what the angel of the Lord delivered to Zechariah was literally A FATHER’S PROMISE
The angel, Gabriel, assured Zechariah that his wife, Elizabeth, even in her old age and in spite of being barren… Elizabeth was going to give birth to a son.  And at long last, Zechariah would become a father.  Understandably Zechariah had a hard time believing this which led to him asking Gabriel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Well, as Zechariah soon found out, when an angel of the Lord brings you good news, don’t question it.  Just say, “Thank you, Lord!” and start counting the FATHER’S PROMISE as having already been delivered. 
But Zechariah’s disbelief in the angel’s declaration resulted in him becoming mute until the day the promise actually came to fruition.
Now, if we keep reading through this first chapter in Luke’s gospel, after the baby was born, his mother, Elizabeth, declared that his name would be John.  However, the idea of naming the child, John, seemed to confuse their neighbors who had assumed the child would be named, Zechariah, after his father. 
Apparently not trusting that Elizabeth knew what she was talking about, the neighbors asked Zechariah about the baby’s name.  However, because he was still mute, he could only respond by writing on a tablet… but once he confirmed that the child’s name would indeed be John, the Scriptures say that, “Immediately [Zechariah’s] mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”
And we hear exactly what Zechariah had to say in our New Testament lesson for today.  Listen again to Zechariah’s prayer of praise found in verses 69 – 75 as it appears in the Message Paraphrase:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free.  He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham— a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.
Zechariah had not spoken in months but when he found his voice again, his first words were words of prophecy about the Savior who was coming to redeem His people… words that reminded his listeners of the promises that had been made to Abraham long ago… that the Messiah was coming and would bring salvation and deliverance from their enemies.
Zechariah praised God for having been given A FATHER’S PROMISE that he counted as having already been delivered, even before the Christ child was born.
And then Zechariah turned his attention to his own son, the son who was the fulfillment of the FATHER’S PROMISE made to him back in the Holy Place of the temple all those months earlier. 
Referring again to the Message Paraphrase, we find these words of promise which Zechariah spoke over his newborn son:
And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins.  Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.
Clearly, Zechariah realized that his encounter with the Angel Gabriel was meant to signify the importance that his child would play in the salvation story… that his son had been chosen to prepare the way of the Lord who would come to lead us down the path of peace.
Now, these prophetic words which Zechariah says to his son who will come to be known as John the Baptist, are basically the last thing we hear about Zechariah.  But Zechariah’s story is nonetheless profound… because his life bears witness to the fact that our physical limitations (like old age) do not limit God and it reminds us that God can accomplish His will and fulfill His promises in some unexpected and unbelievable ways.
One of the things that today’s New Testament lesson points out is how God desires for us to respond when we have received A FATHER’S PROMISE
We are called to believe and not doubt. 
It was clear that Zechariah had doubts.  He basically believed more in his age and infirmity than in the promise that the angel Gabriel brought.  And as a result, he lost his ability to speak.  There are consequences to our unbelief.
Perhaps that is why James, the brother of Jesus offered these words of encouragement in James 1:5 - 6, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
We must believe and not doubt in A FATHER’S PROMISE to hear and answer our prayers.
Our New Testament lesson also serves as a reminder that we have been called to praise the Lord and give thanks, even to the point of praising Him in advance for what is yet on the way… considering the promise as already having been delivered.
Having once again found his voice, Zechariah praised God for the promise of the Messiah who would come to bring salvation to His people.  He began to praise God in advance of seeing the promise come to fruition… perhaps those months of silence taught him a thing or two about trust and believing… it is a lesson we should learn as well… give praise for the promise.
In Ephesians 1:13-14 we read:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Or as it reads in the Message Paraphrase:
It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This down payment from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
The promise of God’s Holy Spirit is just the down payment on what is yet to come… the promise of eternal life… a life that promises to be far greater than anything we can ever hope or imagine… a life that is filled with a peace that surpasses all understanding… and that is a promise that is deserving of our praise.
And there is something else that I want to share when it comes to God’s promises.  Over in 2 Corinthians 1:20, we find these words of the Apostle Paul, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
Has anyone ever wondered exactly what does “amen” mean?  Well, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the word “amen” is used to express solemn ratification or hearty approval. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amen).
But it is more commonly translated simply as “so be it” or “let it be so.”  And so, if God’s promises are “yes” and “amen,” we can already count it done… the promise has already been delivered.  And that ought to give us peace, before, during and long after the Advent season has come and gone. 
Now when we celebrate during the season of Advent, we tend to focus primarily on the birth of Christ, or the Nativity, when Jesus first came to earth as that babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.  We see reminders of it all around us with the beautifully decorated trees and festive lights on display and all the Christmas carols on the radio and endless Hallmark movies on TV.
But the season of Advent is also a time for us to think about Christ coming back to earth, what is often referred to as the Second Advent when the FATHER’S PROMISE will ultimately be fulfilled… and we will spend eternity in the kingdom of God… in the place that Jesus has gone to prepare for us (see John 14:3).
And until that day comes, Jesus has given us His own promise of peace that we can hold onto.  It is in John 14:27 that we read, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
This world that we are living in can be a frightening and scary place but armed with the FATHER’S PROMISE of peace and the expectation of Christ’s coming back for us, we do not need to live in fear… we can start praising Him in advance for the promises yet to come… even as we give thanks for what He has already done.