Luke 1:5-17 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. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent. For the next four weeks Pastor Mike and I are going to preach through four different aspects of the worthiness of God in relation to the first and second coming of Jesus. This week, I’m going to preach on the glorious reality that Jesus’ first coming was worthy of centuries of preparation and the miraculous birth of one who would proclaim his arrival. Before getting there, however, I want to help us consider what Advent is and isn’t, why we might participate in it, and what our participation might look like. Let’s pray that God would help us treasure Christ, such that celebrating His first coming would be our great joy.
Let’s start by making sure we’re all on the same page. That is, let’s briefly consider what Advent is and isn’t, why we might participate in it, and what our participation might look like.
What Advent Isn’t
If you were here for our Ebenezer Service you might remember me saying that celebrating Thanksgiving Day is not required by God. As people called by God to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), we might choose to use Thanksgiving as a means to that end, but it is only one possible way for us to do so.
Advent is like that. There is a way in which celebrating Advent can be a useful tool for something God does require (more on that in a minute), but definitely isn’t commanded by God. Indeed, it’s possible to go through Advent motions in ways that don’t honor God, or to honor God for sending the Son apart from any participation in Advent whatsoever. The simple point I’m trying to make here is that if Advent is going to be a part of our lives and Church, we must do so with a clear understanding of what it is and isn’t. And it isn’t something necessary for Christians.
What Advent Is
So, if that’s what Advent isn’t, what is it? Simply, “advent” means “coming”. In the Church it refers, of course, to the coming of Jesus. Most specifically, it refers to the first coming of Jesus. You can read all about that in the beginning of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The son of God had existed for eternity past along with the Father and Sprit. But in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), according to the will of the Father (Ephesians 1:3-5), the Son was conceived in a virgin (Luke 1:34) by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), and took on flesh, that He might become truly God and truly man.
But Advent also points us to the second coming of Jesus. He came the first time as the bruised reed (Isaiah 53:5) and sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 53:7) promised by God to rescue mankind from our sin. But He will come again in power as the conquering king promised by God to set all things right (Revelation 19). More on that next week.
For centuries the Church has marked off the four weeks prior to Christmas as a time to celebrate Jesus first coming and nurture anticipation of His return; and we call that time Advent.
Why We Might Participate in Advent
Even though it might be a good idea, given that it isn’t commanded by God and there are a lot of good ideas out there, why specifically do we choose to participate in Advent each year as a church, and why do we encourage you to individually? I want to give you three specific reasons.
- Because it connects us with the larger and historical Church. In heaven, all true believers of all time will be gathered together to celebrate the Triune God. When we read the eternal Word of God, sing songs of old, recite ancient creeds, and participate in centuries long practices (like Advent) we get a taste of heaven and a humbling sense of our significant but small place in God’s plan. It’s all too easy to fall into the cultural trap of believing that Christianity is all about me and Jesus, now. Celebrating Advent is one way to remind us of our connection to the larger (all believers around the world today) and historical (all believers of all time) Church.
- As a tool for godliness. In pursuit, and as an expression, of godliness, it is a good and right to strive for a continual sense of gladness for Jesus’ incarnation. Likewise, godliness calls us to always be trusting in the promise of Jesus’ return. As I mentioned earlier, Advent is one of the best outlets to develop and express that kind of heart in ourselves and others.
- Because the godhead is worth it. Ultimately, we’ve chosen to participate Advent because there is almost no better way to spend a month than in considering and celebrating the comings of Jesus. As Pastor Mike will help us see in a few weeks, each person of the godhead participated in different ways in the incarnation, in order to rescue a wayward people to Himself—He is worthy. That God loved us enough that He came to forgive our trespasses—He is worthy. That He was wise enough to determine a way to be just and justifier even before the foundation of the earth was laid—He is worthy. That He was powerful enough to cancel sin, defeat death, and achieve eternal life for all who would receive Him in faith—He is worthy. That He will come again in such a display of power that every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord—He is worthy. And that when He returns He will fix all that sin has broken and make all things new—He is worthy! At its best, Advent is a month long expression of the worthiness of God to be praised above all!
If we are to celebrate Advent, it ought to be for reasons like these…It connects us with the universal Church, it is a tool for godliness, and God is worth it.
What Our Advent Participation Might Look Like
The incarnation of Jesus means that our preparation for, and celebration of, His worthiness needs to be incarnate as well. Advent isn’t meant to be merely in our hearts. It has to work out into the visible world. We encourage you to spend some time prayerfully and creatively imagining what you might do on your own, with your family, and with your DG. Try to find ways that the Christians in your home and among your friends can each use their gifts in specific ways to make Advent as special and honoring to God as possible.
In addition to whatever you come up with on an individual level, there are a number of things we’ll do together as a whole church over the next four weeks.
- Sermon series. For each Sunday in Advent, and in light of my last point above, Pastor Mike and I will preach under the banner of Our God Is Worthy.
- Today I’m going to share a few thoughts on the fact that Jesus’ first coming was worthy of preparing for and a few implications of that for us today.
- Next week, December 5th , I’ll preach on the fact that God’s second coming is worth preparing for.
- And on December 12th and 19th Pastor Mike will preach on the worthiness of each person of the Trinity in the incarnation.
- Christmas program
- Nativity walk
- Caroling at senior homes
- Meal delivery
- Christmas Eve service
- Devotional. The final thing I want to mention is the devotional in the back of the room. We have enough for every family to take a copy; please do. Each day is a short, simple, and exceptionally Christ-centered truth related to Advent. It would be great to use for your quiet time or for family worship. In fact, to help you get going, I’m going to read the first day at the end of the sermon.
Celebrating Advent is not required for Christians. It is a practice of the Church intended to help celebrate Jesus first coming and anticipate His second. If we are to participate in it, it ought to be to help connect us to the Church, to express and grow in godliness, and flow from our understanding that God is worthy. And we’d like to encourage you to lean into Advent yourself and the different ways we’re going to celebrate Advent together.
As one means to help you to those ends, as I mentioned earlier, we’re going to preach on the relationship between Advent and the worthiness of God to receive all blessing and honor and praise. Specifically, this morning, I intend to spend the rest of this sermon helping you consider the worthiness of God such that centuries of preparing for His coming and a miracle-born herald for when He did, are the most logical and appropriate things ever.
OUR GOD IS WORTHY – PREPARE HIM ROOM FOR CENTURIES
Consider for a moment what kinds of things you prepare the most for. A big test? A job interview? A project at work? Family vacation? As a kid I most remember my dad preparing to go hunting each year. He’d lay out all of his stuff in the living room days, or even weeks before the trip. He never explicitly said it, but it was clear that he really enjoyed the trip and preparing was a part of that enjoyment.
I spent some time this week trying to remember what single event I’ve spent the most time preparing for. I never came up with a specific answer; it’s harder to quantify than I’d originally imagined. In the end, I suppose it’s got to be our wedding or the birth/adoption of our children. Even if it’s ministry or something else, the thing that became immediately obvious to me is that all of the candidates were the most important things in my life. I’ve never spent months preparing to brush my teeth or stain a piece of trim or go get gas. It seems obvious that preparation is directly tied to value. We prepare most for the things we value most.
It should not be surprising, then, to find that God called His people to prepare for the coming of Jesus centuries before He came. Because Jesus is supremely valuable, His coming was worthy of preparing for like few other things in the entire history of mankind. There are two ways primary things that God gave His people to help them prepare for the coming of Jesus: 1) Promises that He would come, and 2) A specific messenger to announce that the time had come.
Promises of His Coming
Just like there are a number of NT promises of Jesus’ return (which we’ll look at together next week), the OT is filled with dozens of promises of His first coming. I’d like to draw your attention to just a few. Once again, the main reason we all need this is to help us see the unique worthiness of God that is revealed in His unique promises and works. The fact that God chose to tell His people, so many times, over so many years, that He would send them a Rescuer, was meant to help them prepare for His coming, because He was worthy of their trust and allegiance.
- Genesis 3. The very first promise of Jesus is found in Genesis 3, immediately after the Fall. In vs. 14-15, “14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is a simple, subtle promise that a Son of Eve would one day crush the head of the serpent who helped usher sin and death into mankind. This was a promise that Jesus would come. And it was meant to send a surge of hope and longing into Adam and Eve.
- Genesis 12. There’s a similarly subtle promise that Jesus would come in Genesis 12:2-3. In speaking of His covenant with Abraham, God promised, “… I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” There were, of course, partial fulfillments of this promise throughout the OT, but the fullness of the blessing for Abraham and “all the families of the earth” was only to be found in Jesus. God’s people were to long and prepare for the day that God would fulfill this promise. Without really knowing it, they were to long for and prepare for the coming of Jesus.
- Isaiah 7. In Isaiah 7:14 it was promised to King Ahaz, and all of Israel, “… the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” What was subtle, becomes explicit. Immanuel means “God with us”. God gave this prophesy-promise to His people, once again, because Immanuel’s coming was great news and worth getting ready for. What’s more, the awesome nature of His coming is indicated by the supernatural way in which he would come—through a virgin! The promised One would be no ordinary man, and He would not come through ordinary means, to accomplish no ordinary things; which meant that God’s people should prepare in no ordinary way.
- Isaiah 9. Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This is, perhaps, the most familiar of the promises of Jesus’ coming. Around Christmas time, we find it all over the place; on cards, in songs, even on billboards. Among other things, this particular promise was meant to heighten anticipation and help the people of God to ready themselves.
If I told you all that I was going to take you out to lunch next week, you’d probably be intrigued; but there’s a world of difference between the promise of a lunch of a McDonalds dollar menu item and a lunch at Fogo de Chao. And if you didn’t already know what Fogo de Chao is, telling you about the picanha cut (top sirloin) and the filet and the beef ancho (ribeye) and the medalhões com bacon (bacon wrapped), would only serve to heighten your eagerness.
And so it is with this promise of God. He would be a king, a wonderful counselor, God Himself, provider and protector, and one who would bring peace to the world. How’s that for Someone worthy of preparing for?!
- Micah 5. Micah 5:1 promises, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Finally, in this passage God revealed that the coming Messiah would be from the humble town of Bethlehem. From this too little clan of Judah, would come the ruler promised “from ancient of days.” All of this, was intended to help the Israelites to long for the promised Savior and to know Him when He came.
In the gospel of John (John 13:12-20) we’re told that Jesus washed his disciple’s feet. After having done so, Jesus revealed that there was a betrayer among those whose feet He’d just washed, “But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” More significantly still, however, Jesus revealed why He revealed that there was a betrayer among them, “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.”
The Advent promises—dozens of them, spread out over centuries—are like that. They were told in advance, that God’s people would long for the time of His coming, and when the time did come, God’s people would believe that Jesus was the promised one.
John the Baptist
The second main way God helped His people prepare for the coming of the promised Messiah, and therein put His worthiness on display, was in the person of John the Baptist (our passage for this morning). I want to quickly point out four things from this passage—from John’s life—that help us appreciate the worthiness of Jesus and the rightness of God’s people preparing for His coming.
- God set aside John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, as righteous. V.6 says, “6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” God doesn’t always use righteous people to accomplish His purposes. In fact, more often it seems that He does not. But in the case of the coming of Jesus, the theme of holiness in those involved was unmistakable; beginning with the parents of the one who would proclaim His arrival!
- God set aside John’s mom as barren and old. V. 7 says, “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” The point of these things was to highlight the power of God, the uniqueness of their son, and ultimately the uniqueness of the One whom their son would make a path for. This is reminiscent of God allowing a man to be born blind that Jesus might heal him and demonstrate his power and glory (John 9).
- God sent an angel to tell John’s dad, Zechariah, that his son would be set aside for a unique mission. “…many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. … And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just…”. Did you pick up on that?! God sent an angel messenger to tell Zechariah that through his son, God would accomplish great things, in order that people would believe him when he announced the arrival of one greater than he. It’s not easy to explain how remarkable this is. A great heavenly messenger, sent to announce the birth of a great earthly messenger, sent to announce one greater than them both!
- God set John aside to proclaim that the Messiah had come! John’s mission was “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
If this is the nature of the messenger, just imagine the nature of the One he was raised up to announce! Indeed, listen to the time in which John fulfilled his mission (John 1:29-34)
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
OUR GOD IS WORTHY – PREPARE HIM ROOM TODAY
The point of all of this is that Jesus is utterly unique in human history. He is uniquely worthy! For centuries God called His people to prepare for His coming. When the fullness of time came, God gave the person of John the Baptist to announce the arrival of the One He’d long promised. All of that was meant to give His people hope in what was to come and then to help them receive it in faith and obedience when He did.
So what are we to make of and do with all of this? What is the right response for us today? To answer that question and to commend to you the devotional we’re giving out, I want to close by reading day one to you.
What John the Baptist [along with centuries of God’s promises] did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!
So, that you might be prepared . . . First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). If you don’t need a Savior, you don’t need Christmas. Christmas will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.
Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! / Try me and know my thoughts! / And see if there be any grievous way in me, / and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24). Let every heart prepare him room . . . by cleaning house.
Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can make Christmas exciting only with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.
Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord?” (Jeremiah 23:29)! Gather ’round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights.
Our God is worthy, Grace! May we all prepare Him room.