And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. Luke 1:6
Ok. So that’s the Christmas verse I’m starting with today. But I think it matters. Why? Because I think that faithfully waiting, faithfully waiting and obeying, are integral to the Christmas story. I think that faithfully waiting and obeying no matter what the situation in your life is like, is an important lesson of the Christmas story.
I remember not waiting one Christmas season when I was a kid. I remember hearing friends who talked about finding their Christmas presents before Christmas. I thought I would try. I remember finding things under Mom and Dad’s bed. I remember pulling them out and seeing them before they were wrapped. I remember. I don’t remember the same excitement on seeing them that I received when unwrapping something in front of the tree on Christmas morning. But I do remember one more thing. I remember faking it on Christmas morning when I opened the gifts I had already seen and already knew about. I remember hating that feeling. I remember that I never wanted to do that again. I remember that was the last time I ever looked for my gifts again. I’d rather wait.
Well, Christmas isn’t about the tree or gifts. But it does, and even the first one did, teach about waiting. And Luke starts the story off with Zachariah and Elisabeth. They are both older and there is a sad fact of their life, at least in their culture it was sad- they had no children. Elisabeth was barren all these years. I’m sure they had waited and waited and trusted and trusted and by now Elizabeth was too old to have children. They gave up that hope.
But even though it probably broke their hearts, they didn’t give up on You, Lord. Even in the pain You encouraged Luke to say this about them, “they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” Now, I want to look into what their righteousness consisted of because that has bearing on me. Why? Because I need to know what righteousness looks like in my life. And I see that they were considered righteous because they were “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord…” It’s interesting where that takes me.
It takes me to Matthew 28:19,20a. ““Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;” It takes me to that word “go.” And looking back into what it meant back then, tells me exactly what God was considering righteousness in Zachariah and Elisabeth and His disciples anywhere, anytime.
“Go.” That’s a small word that says so much but it doesn’t always say what we think it says. After doing some research, I found some things that relate here. Even though “go” usually means “to go or to send” and it’s the Greek word “poreuthentes” from “poreuomai,” (which is the same word used of the way Zacharias and Elisabeth were walking!), it’s an aorist passive participle.
Now, I love this stuff, these little treasure tidbits gleaned from language. But I’m not the specialist, so I’m going to let a specialist, Skip Moen, explain the grammar here:
“Aorist means that this verb is an action completed in the past. Passive means that it was an action done to someone. And a participle connects an action to another part of the sentence (it presents the bare idea of the verb as if it were an adjective describing a noun or pronoun). Yes, I know this is complicated, but it will be worth it.
Let’s apply these definitions to the text. The translation cannot be “go” because that would require the word to be in the present tense, like “I go.” Here the word is in the past tense so it must be something like “having gone.” But it is passive, which means that I didn’t do the “going.” Someone or something else caused me to go. So we should read, “Having been caused to go.” Since it is a participle, this passive action needs to be connected to some noun or pronoun. But there isn’t any noun or pronoun in this sentence. By implication, this action is applied to those who are listening even though they aren’t named. We have to assume that this action describes the listeners. It doesn’t tell them what to do. It describes what is already true about them.”
So, no longer is this a command, but it’s saying, “You have been caused to go.” Now, what was the Hebrew idea continuing behind this? Skip continues, ” it is most likely that Yeshua used the Hebrew verb halak, ‘to walk, to go in a certain direction.’ This Hebrew idea is an idiom used to describe a way of life, a way that is in conformity with God’s directions. While the Greek idea suggests a path that leads to God, the Hebrew idea suggests following a path that God has already given. In other words, ‘to walk in God’s way’ is to live according to the covenant – the Torah.”
Why is this important and what does it have to do with Christmas and waiting. Because “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him…” 2 Chronicles 16:9 Lord, You are looking today and You were looking 2000 years ago. And while You were looking, You saw Zacharias and Elisabeth. And there they were, even in their pain, following the path that You had already given them. There they were, even in the midst of their disappointment, walking in Your way and living according to Your Word.
And this is exciting Christmas stuff here, now! This is exciting Gospel stuff happening! Here’s one of my favorite words in Scripture. In English I hear and see the words, “And it came to pass.” Oh, how those words make me jump for joy! Oh, how those words make me get so excited about what God is going to do! It’s that Greek word “ginomai” again. And when You use that word, You are getting ready to do something, like visit a Samaritan woman at a well and change her life, or visit an old man and woman and change their lives forever. But it never stops there. Because in changing one person’s life, You are already bringing to pass many more changed lives. Because You bring things to pass on purpose and not by accident. Because the little seeming altered plans of “ginomai” turns in life, are Your great masterpieces in bringing Your will to fruition.
How long had Zacharias and Elisabeth waited for a baby? How long had they continued walking in Your ways faithfully even though they didn’t receive what they prayed for? What was most important to them? Did they want the baby most or did they want You most. And You looked over the whole earth and saw their heart for You even in the midst of pain and shame. And You chose on that particular day in that particular year, to choose Zacharias and Elisabeth to bear the child You chose and equipped to prepare the world for Your coming Son.
How does, “and it came to pass” adequately express Your deliberate interaction and intervention here? You chose this particular path for Your particular purpose. Your angel appeared to Zacharias. He spoke to him. He scared him like angels do. And after all these years of praying for a child, after they had probably stopped praying because now it was impossible, this Angel says “Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call him John.” But it didn’t stop there. This was going to be worth more rejoicing and gladness than usual. Why? “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord…” He’ll be set apart and filled with the Holy Ghost even while he’s inside his mother’s womb! Not only that, but “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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.” Now, how is that for awesome news!
When the angel says the part about John turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, that’s actually a reference from Malachi 4:4-6. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Now, I want to think about the timeline here, because really, what Zacharias and Elisabeth were ultimately waiting for was taking a lot more time that you would think. Because here’s a promise that You, Lord, are bringing to pass on this particular day. Only we’ve got 350-400 years from the time of Elijah to the time of Malachi’s words. And from the time of Malachi’s words, we have a time of silent waiting for Israel that lasted another 400 years. And then You choose this day, this couple, to break that silence.
And how do you break the silence? With the birth of a baby in the middle of an impossible situation. You break the silence with a birth of a baby who will herald another baby who is coming. Only this baby herald, will herald a man, will herald and man who is God in the form of man come to save mankind just like what was promised. And in calling people back to this promise, to Your Christ, hearts of parents and hearts of children would be able to be changed.
Yes, Christmas is about waiting. It’s about being prepared. But it’s also about responding. Christmas is a time to remember my focus on Your Word and Your Way. To line myself up with the path You set before me. As a parent, have I been guilty of ignoring my children because of my work or commitments? Have I been abusive to them? Have I allowed myself to be swallowed up with bitter disappointment in them? You have come to change my heart. Am I lined up with You on these things?
And what if I must look at myself as a child? Am I in a state of cocky rebellion? Am I embittered and crying out how much I am the victim? Am I guilty of neglect? I cannot change my parents, but You, Lord, can change my heart toward them.
I’d like to share John Piper’s words here:
“So the word of God to fathers (and mothers!) today is this:
Turn your hearts to your children: don’t give them the dregs of your life. Turn your hearts to your children: don’t be unkind, don’t constantly criticize, don’t even think the wicked thoughts that lead to sexual abuse. Turn your hearts toward your children: let the bitterness go, at least from your side forgive, and roll the burden onto God.
And the word to children is this:
Turn your hearts toward your father (and mother!): don’t rebel; obey! Turn your hearts toward your fathers and mothers and grandparents: don’t forget them or neglect them; care for them. Turn your hearts toward your father: the road to restoration may be as long as life. It may involve extensive counseling with a wise Christian therapist. But in your heart the decisive step can be taken, must be taken: the feeling of having been victimized must cease to justify animosity.
It’s the answer for why our hearts should turn in every one of these cases: Jesus was the ultimate victim. We were the ultimate abusers—our sin nailed him to the cross. And Jesus has turned his heart toward you this morning. That is the meaning of this message. Whether you look back and remember the law of God, or look forward and see the victory of God, the point comes through: God has turned his heart toward you in Jesus Christ. Don’t push it away. It is a sweet and wonderful thing to hold no grudges.”
See, God, here You are preparing us for Christ. We’re calling that Christmas right now. But You sent John into the world to declare and prepare us for one thing. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is what John was preparing us practically for. This is the kind of gift that You give at Christmas and all year long. This is the gift of mercy and love and sacrifice and obedience that You are looking for us to give to others on Christmas and all year long.
Today I have one Christmas prayer for You. Turn my heart to my parents, Lord. And turn their heart to me. Turn my heart to my children, and turn their heart to me. But above all, turn my heart to You, Heavenly Father, and turn Your heart to me. And, Lord, turn my heart every day, not just on Christmas. I want to unwrap the joy of Your continued salvation and work in my life daily. I don’t just want to talk about You, I want to walk in You. So teach me, know matter what it takes or how long. But, Lord, I’m also finding that when You make us wait, it’s worth it.