So we stand on the precipice of ending of the Advent Season. We are at Week 4 of Advent. Where we have been standing on our tippy toes the last three weeks, we stretch ourselves even a little more on our toes. We stand a little more on edge (in a positive way) waiting for the coming of the Christ Child. The one who was sent to redeem us and the entirety of creation. The one who was sent to show us what the Kingdom of God looked like by the way he lived his life. The one who embodied the Kingdom of God.
Over the last 3 weeks we have been looking at what it has meant for God to be sent in the form of a man. Three weeks ago we covered The Coming Lord and focused on, what is traditionally done during the first Sunday of Advent, that of the second coming of Jesus, the second advent if you will. When he comes back to set this world completely to right.
Two weeks ago as we celebrated the second week of Advent we talked about the Coming Deliverer. That Jesus in his first advent came to deliver his people (of Israel) but also everyone else in the world (from then till now and for all eternity) to true freedom, and not just from the bondage to foreign oppressors, like the Roman Empire.
Last week for the 3rd Sunday of Advent we talked about the Coming Messenger and we focused on Isaiah 61:1-4 and Jesus fulfilling this call in his mission and ministry. And for those who would follow after him out all is to renew, rebuild and restore.
Today, as I mentioned, we have almost arrived at the culmination of the Advent season, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, where we celebrate in fullness the coming of the Christ child. But since we don’t have a Christmas Eve gathering (something we might want to talk about sometime in the future to see if there would be interest in such a thing), today is the culmination for our community. The day to look at the first advent of Jesus- as the baby in the manger over 2,000 years ago. But to do that we will start in a most unusual place and then end up in the text that we hear most at this time of year.
So let’s go to a text that I am sure all of us have memorized, and can recite to each other…Zechariah 2:10-13 and then in a bit we’ll end up in Luke 2:1-20.
But before we jump into Zechariah 2, we need to do a little unpacking of the book to give us some context for what we’ll read together. Zechariah the prophet (who also happened to be from a priestly family) and his ministry took place in the post exilic period- a time of Jewish restoration after being in Babylonian captivity. A time to come back to their homeland and begin to rebuild their lives, their community, their capital city, and their temple- all of which had been destroyed in one way or another during the Babylonian captivity. It was a time of crying out for God to come and intervene and help them restore and rebuild the ruins of their lives and their beloved communities. Zechariah’s ministry and the book that bears his name was written then to encourage and motivate the people of God (the Israelites) to rebuild, especially the temple, after the exile. This time in the life of Israel was especially a time of crying out and longing for the much needed Messiah to come. In fact, this book is so filled with Messianic prophecies pointing to both the first and second advent, that only the Psalms and Isaiah in the Old Testament, have more messianic prophecies.
So with that little bit of history and context out of the way let’s turn to Zechariah 2:10-13 and see what it might have to say and how it points us to the first advent of Jesus.
Zechariah 2:10-13 says, “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
So the first thing we see is this repetition that takes place in verses 10 and 11 with the words “live among you.” Or in other translations they use the words “dwell with you”. These statements, at the time, no doubt brought the hearers mind to God coming to dwell in their temple, and their desire to put the temple back together because that is what it symbolized for them, God’s presence with his people. And in some way, I suppose that is right. But there are two deeper fulfillments of these words about God dwelling with HIs people. This book written around 520 BC encompasses both the First Advent and the Second Advent of Jesus- The Messiah.
We see this concept of God dwelling with his people through the Messiah when we read in Isaiah that he shall be called Immanuel which means God with us. This is the ultimate fulfillment of Zechariah’s writings…Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. God taking on flesh and blood, and making his dwelling among us or as the Message says Jesus taking on flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood. John 1:14 points back and connects to Zechariah 2…and the fact that God has come to make his dwelling among humanity- in the past through the temple, in the past through the coming of Jesus, in the present through the Holy Spirit residing in the community of believers- the church and in our future when he comes to set this world to right again.
There is reason for Zechariah’s hearers to rejoice, shout and be glad, because God will make his dwelling among humanity. There is reason that God’s people should rejoice and be glad because God will make his dwelling among humanity in a unique and powerful way….in a way that his hearers thought they understood- in the temple yes, but also in the hoped for Messiah- that they hoped would come, restore Israel to it’s rightful place. A place of power, authority and might- and not one in which they were rebuilding their ruined cities- and not one of being in their own land living under the thumb of a foreign empire- like during the 1st Century. But as I mentioned last week- the people of God- the one’s who were waiting for the Messiah to come, knew the prophecies about him, and were the one’s longing for his coming- could not even begin to comprehend what the Messiah would actually look like when his feet hit our soil. They didn’t recognize him when he came- because he didn't come in the way they expected. I mean, if we are honest, we wouldn’t probably have caught on either….That is one huge reason that I believe in the truth of this narrative- because there is no way that I would have written something like this- I would have written the narrative more in line with the prevailing Kingdom thought- a Messiah coming in power, might, authority- riding in on a huge white war horse, a man of privilege, a man of wealth, and a warrior King here to free his people from the Tyranny of the Empire by using fighting fire with fire- empire force with empire force. But we know that isn’t what happened. What is the story? What kind of Messiah did they actually get?
Here is where we hear the familiar words of Luke 2:1-20 and possibly we hear half these words in the voice of Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.
Luke 2:1-20…”In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.”
So they get a Messiah born to a poor, refugee family in the underbelly of the empire, and the underbelly of society. He didn’t come in power, as conquering King although he was King….which of course is the beginning of the confrontation between the Kings of this world, and the true King of King and Lord of Lords. Because the baby lying in the manger is the true King of the world. He’s born in a manger and not in some fancy royal palace. He’s laid in an animal trough not in a cradle made out of precious metals and of an ornate design. He had angels trumpeting his arrival and not a royal court in this world. And who came to proclaim his birth to others? Shepherds whose word wasn’t even recognized in a court of law. If you only had shepherds to testify for you in a court of law, you were pretty much out of luck. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords didn’t come in the way that God’s people were hoping, expecting, or even dreaming. But he came as promised, in Zechariah 2, to living among his creation.
But here is the story nonetheless. The King of the World, The Christ, the Messiah, God himself comes into our world. Takes on flesh and blood and dwells with all humanity. He moves into our neighborhood. He becomes human. The God of the universe dwells in a tiny baby’s body. The divine taking up residence with us….Immanuel God with us.
But what does it mean to you and I here 2,000 years later that Jesus was born in Bethlehem? How does this affect our everyday existence? What difference does it make in our lives? That is one of the questions that we’ll ask. And we’ll also talk about what it says to us about the way and how Jesus was born and what this might say to us about our world, what God cares about and what we, as followers of Jesus, should care about. So let’s now talk about applying this 2,000 year old story to our lives in 2015 (almost 2016)
1. What does it mean to you that Jesus took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood? What difference does it make in our lives and in our everyday existence?
2. What does it say to us about the way that Jesus was born? What might it say to us about our world, what God cares about and what we as followers of Jesus should care about?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?.