Welcome to worship today at Christ Lutheran and welcome if you’re joining us by way of the radio!
We begin the church season of Advent today---4 weeks of preparation for Christ’s birth. And to help us prepare, we’re starting a sermon series for Advent called, “The Angels’ Good News”. We’ll hear what the angels had to say to prepare Mary and Joseph and the shepherds for Jesus’ birth. But today we start with what the angel Gabriel had to say to Zechariah to prepare him for the birth of his son, John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for Jesus.
Angels---there’s all kinds of ideas about them. You may remember Calvin and Hobbes in the comics. One day they were discussing angels. And Calvin says to Hobbes---I think angels are everywhere. Hobbes replies---You do? Calvin says---Sure they’re on calendars, books, greeting cards….almost every product imaginable. And Hobbes concludes---What a spiritual age we live in!
I wonder how much of our spiritual thinking is influenced by marketing and pop culture and what happens to be trending at the moment. A few weeks ago, Pastor John mentioned how Hollywood has their own theology of heaven. The same is true of angels. And it’s not all bad. But we should be careful to base our beliefs about angels---and everything else---on the solid rock of the Bible and not the shifting sands of pop culture.
Earlier this fall our sermon series focused on the differences between a Christian/Biblical worldview and the various secular worldviews out there. We can apply that to the subject of angels.
One poll suggests that 70% of Americans believe angels exist. But as is often the case, there is a spectrum of beliefs out there in the world that can get far from Biblical teaching.
20 years ago there was a resurgence in interest in angels---some of it connected to that philosophy called New Age and some related to various TV shows, books and movies. Some of this renewed interest had Biblical connections and was helpful in bringing the subject to public attention.
It was and is a chance for Christians to tell what angels are all about. The Hebrew and Greek words for angel simply mean messenger---God’s messenger. Angels serve God. And where some modern views of angels get off track is where they talk of angels as beings that humans can control to do our bidding if we just learn the right tricks.
Angels are God’s messengers and work for his purposes---often to our benefit, but not under our control.
At the other end of the spectrum of angel views is the secular one that says that angels are merely leftovers from primitive times when people were gullible and believed such unsophisticated things.
The Biblical view of angels is neither of those extremes. But what can modern Christians believe about angels?
In light of scientific discoveries can a reasonable person believe that angels are real? I’ve said before that in college I studied, biology, chemistry, and physics, among others. Those scientific fields all have much to teach us about God’s world.
But this is where that worldview question comes in. There is a worldview sometimes called scientific materialism that states that the only things that are real are those we can touch and measure and observe. Anything else just can’t exist.
Some scientists believe that---many don’t!
Stephen Barr is a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Delaware. How many theoretical particle physicists do we have here today?
Barr writes about the perceived conflict between science and religion---and he concludes that the real conflict is not science vs. religion but between religion and this philosophy of scientific materialism.
Barr says that says scientific materialism is not legitimate science because it is based on beliefs that are not scientifically provable---like the belief that the only things that are real are those we can touch and measure and observe.
To make a long story short, Barr goes on to say that several renowned physicists today believe that fields like quantum physics demonstrate that a purely material view of the world is not compatible with some of the recent discoveries of science---discoveries that point to dimensions of existence that we humans can’t perceive at all or can only catch glimpses of.
Barr is a famous physicist and Christian who believes that there is much God does that goes far beyond human understanding. So while we can’t explain angels scientifically, we can believe that what the Bible says about angels is true!
Second, whether you and I have had personal experiences with angels or not isn’t the measure of what is possible. That’s another worldview issue. Too many people say---“If I haven’t experienced, it can’t be true.” That shoots the arrogance meter right to the top doesn’t it?
Just like the disciple Thomas learned, there’s much that’s true that we haven’t learned or experienced yet! Our own experience is never a valid measure of what our almighty God can do!
And don’t forget that God sometimes sends his angelic messengers in non-angelic forms. As it says in Hebrews—
Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
That may be true for you!
The Bible tells us a lot about angels. They’re mentioned almost 300 times. Angels praise God. They protect people and serve as guardians. Jesus himself refers to angels numerous times. Angels bring messages from God as we will see with Zechariah.
Let’s look at what happened there.
St Luke introduces us to Elizabeth and Zechariah, a faithful couple who loved God and lived lives of service and honor before the Lord. They had a marriage that honored God and each other. However, there was an emptiness in them because they wanted to have children but did not.
In that day and culture, not having children was often viewed as a curse from God because of some sin in a person's life. But that was not true.
That dream of having a child was long gone for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Nevertheless, they continued to pray and live faithfully before God in their lives.
Luke 1:8–9 “Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”
As a priest, Zechariah would spent 50 weeks of the year at his home town teaching and serving in his local synagogue. However, two weeks out of the year he and all other priests who were a part of his division of Abijah would head to Jerusalem to serve in the temple area and perform various priestly duties.
During the time of service in Jerusalem, one of the more noble duties that occurred twice a day, morning and late afternoon, was the burning of incense on the altar inside the Holy Place of the temple.
One day Zechariah was selected to preside over this holy, priestly duty. And that’s when his life changed dramatically.
Luke 1:11-15, 17 “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord….to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Pretty mind-boggling for Zechariah! After all he and Elizabeth had been praying---but this was more than they expected. And Zechariah blurted out his surprise and doubt.
Luke 1:18 “Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Seems like a reasonable question to me.
Luke 1:19-20 “The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
Why did Zechariah lose his voice? Hard to be sure. If I would lose my voice every time I questioned God, it would be awfully quiet around our house! Maybe it was the sign Zechariah asked for? “How can I be sure of this” he asked? And Zechariah got his sign.
VIDEO---Zechariah in the Temple
God is just getting started!
Getting started with the events that would lead to the birth of John the Baptist who would prepare people for the coming of Jesus.
Getting started with the birth of his new kingdom through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Getting started in your life and mine to bring us the angels’ Good News!
That angelic message comes tailored for each of us for what we need most.
To our world torn by greed and hatred and war and human arrogance, the Good News is that our sin does not have the final say in the world---and that God will renew us here and now and he will finalize the new heaven and new earth at the time he decides.
To those who are crushed by life’s burdens, it is the Good News that God will give you the strength you need most, when and how you need it.
To those who are fighting temptation it is the Good News that God can lead you past the evil to the good if you will let him work in you.
To those who doubt their worth or purpose, it is the message that God loves you far beyond any human love you have ever known and he has a purpose for your life.
To those who struggle with illness or grief, the angels’ Good News is that in Jesus, God brings healing and new life.
God is just getting started in your life and mine and he wants us, in this Advent season, to prepare our lives to welcome him into human life as a tiny child. And he is a child who has, and will continue, to change everything!