1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
5 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.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Now that we’re in the thick of winter, it seems like a good time to think about summer, right? When it’s freezing cold and we’re contemplating how many layers of fleece to put on, it’s a good thing to focus on the coming warmth, despite the fact that it’s another 3 weeks until winter even truly begins. As of this moment, we have five different space heaters in our house. The fifth one is a new addition—4 just weren’t enough. Hard to believe we were both raised hundreds of miles north from here. We don’t fare well in the cold.
We know what the depths of winter feel like. It’s achingly cold, and the car cannot warm up quickly enough. We find every warm piece of clothing we have, and yet the wind somehow sneaks through anyway. We try and seal the house against the elements, but a draft gets in and reminds us of the winter cold. Snow flurries drift down and torment us. Sometime around the beginning of February, it feels like winter will never end.
And yet, just as surely as the sun rises in the morning, each and every year the cold of winter turns to summer heat. The question for you is this: when does winter end and summer begin?
Now, each and every one of us may answer this question differently. For you, it may be when the first flower blooms in early spring, when the crocus appear and give us green in the midst of brown. Perhaps it is Easter Sunday, when the church is in bloom. Maybe it’s March 21, the first day of spring. For me, winter ends every year on February 15, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Each and every one of us may latch on to a different sign, but the point is that there are all sorts of different reminders for us—each one points to the reality of the coming spring, to the return of warmth, and the end of the winter cold. They are all signs that point to the coming future.
At one point, we’ll be standing outside in mid-July when it’s 115 degrees outside and we’ll be unable to contemplate the fact that it was once 25 degrees outside. We’ll have forgotten what it feels like to be cold, because we’ll be too busy melting into the parking lot. All we’ll know is heat. The cold will have been lost to the past.
In a similar train of thought, Scripture is moving. God is moving creation from one place to another. The world is changing around us. Creation is being transformed. And there are signs along the way.
Take a moment to look at Genesis 1, the beginning. Verse 2 says that the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep. In the beginning, there is nothing but darkness. God’s first creation is light.
Now, flip to the other end of Scripture, from the beginning to the end of the story. There, in Revelation 22, its says in verse 5 that there will be no more night, for the Lord God will be the light forever. In the end, there is nothing but light.
So we move from darkness to light. From one end of the spectrum to the other. At one point there was no light, and in the end the darkness will have been vanquished and there will be nothing but light. It is as drastic a change as you can imagine. Similar to the transition from freezing cold to searing heat—in the midst of the light, we will scarcely be able to remember what the darkness was like.
And along the way, there are signs. God has given us reminders that the light is coming. God has sent prophets and apostles and angels and miracles to assure us that the light is indeed coming, because the darkness is still here. We are in a transition period, a time when the world is being shifted from darkness into light, and the darkness is not yet gone. We do not have the ability to forget what darkness is like, because it is all around us.
And yet, there is also light. There are signs of God’s presence and God’s work in our midst. We are constantly being reminded that God is coming, that darkness will vanish. We are being reminded that God wins. We just need to remember to pay attention to the signs, and to let them encourage us in our common walk with Christ.
So we come to Advent, here in the middle of winter, a time when the leaves have fallen off the trees and the weather outside is pointing to the dead of winter, and we spend these 4 weeks being reminded that Christ not only has come but also is coming. We look forward to celebrating the birth of the Christ child, that pivotal moment in history when the light himself entered into the darkness and shone among us, even though the darkness did not understand it. We also look forward to Christ’s return, when the light shall conquer the darkness and destroy it, catching us up in the light forever, banishing the darkness to the pages of history. Advent is a time to be reminded of the light.
The story today, the story of the announcing of John the Baptist, is another one of those moments. John the Baptist’s parents were too old to have children, and yet God brings life to Elizabeth’s womb. It had been barren and hopeless, and yet it was there that God brought life. When Zecheriah dared not to believe the angel Gabriel, he was struck mute until the time that the baby was born. God gave the people a sign, life in the midst of death, a reminder that the darkness would not win, and signpost pointing to his final victory over sin and death.
The Bible is littered with signposts that God sent to remind us that the light wins in the end. God was constantly reminding us that the darkness would not prevail. When Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children and God promise to make a nation out of them, Sarah laughed at the promises of God, and yet she gave birth to a child. When the children of Israel were stuck between the watery sea and the Egyptian army, God made a way through the water, bringing them to safety and life when threatened with death. Throughout history, God has a habit of reminding us that life conquers over death. When the Roman army had invaded Jerusalem and there seemed to be no champion for the Jews, God brought life into the womb of a virgin and Jesus Christ was born. When Jesus was dead and in the tomb, a place of darkness and death, God brought forth resurrection to demonstrate that life would win over death.
Friends, God has not ceased sending these signposts into the world. God has not stopped reminding us that life is bigger than death, that darkness will be forgotten and light will prevail. The question for us is whether we are willing to pay attention to what God is doing. There is resurrection in our midst.
So, this Advent season, I invite you into the discipline of waiting and watching. Will you watch for signs of life that are all around you? Will you wait patiently as God reveals himself to the world around us? Will you stop trying to make everything happen on your own and trust in the God who promises to make light prevail over darkness? When the walls are closing in and frustration and despair are all around, will you look to the hills, from whence your help comes?
I know that there are plenty of reasons for despair. As a congregation, there is pain and suffering in our midst. We mourn. We pray for miraculous healings. We struggle to look for hope.
Advent is a season of hope. It is a time that we are reminded that it is not by our own strength that we conquer, but by the strength of our Savior that we will prevail. God’s light will win, and in Christ we, too, will win. All we have to do is trust in him, and as we do so may we have the wisdom to look for the signs of life that are all around us, to look for light in the midst of the darkness, and hold onto hope that spring is coming.
Let us pray