December 5, 2010
The Road to Bethlehem
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
If you have kids, especially younger kids, they are probably getting very anxious for the arrival of Christmas. When you’re young, it’s hard to be patient at Christmas.
I am not a very patient person. I don’t like to wait in lines and I get very anxious when traffic is moving too slowly. I don’t like to have to wait on the mail to deliver things I order and I really don’t like to wait on a meal. I’m just not very good at waiting.
When we read the Scriptures we find a lot of waiting. The Hebrew people waited for generations for delivery from Egypt. After leaving Egypt they waited decades to enter the Promised Land. Later, after being taken into captivity in Babylon, they waited decades for deliverance. And the longest period of waiting was in waiting for the Messiah.
The Road to Bethlehem is the theme of our messages for Advent. This morning, the road to Bethlehem takes us through Judea, to the home of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, where we find that the context of the first Christmas is very different from our context. For us, the time preceding Christmas is a joyous and festive time, but it was not for the characters in the story of the first Christmas.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, like so many other Biblical characters, had been waiting. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had waited many years to have a child but finally gave up hope when so many years had past.
But it wasn’t just Zechariah and Elizabeth who had given up hope because of a long time of waiting. At this point in history the people of God had not heard a word from God for about 4 centuries, and many had given up hope of hearing any word. Their frustration was compounded because they were once again a nation occupied by a foreign power. This time it was the Romans, and after centuries of being controlled by various powers the waiting for deliverance had simply become too much for some and they lost hope and wondered if perhaps God had forsaken them. Will we hear from God, they wondered. Will he deliver us?
As hard as it is to wait, it’s really hard to wait on God. A person might become impatient waiting on important information or waiting on important news, but when you are waiting on God, it can be very difficult to be patient. When you come face to face with a health crisis and you hope and pray for healing, you can become impatient waiting on God. When you face a financial crisis and you pray for help, you can become impatient waiting on God. When you worry about a friend or a family member, you can become impatient waiting on him to intervene in their life. In those kinds of instances you don’t want to wait; you want God to do something right then.
Have you ever become impatient with God? Have you ever wondered about God’s timing? Have you ever come to the point where you considered giving up or perhaps you actually gave up because waiting became too difficult and too discouraging?
One of the things the Scriptures teach us is that God works on a different timetable than we do. We become so anxious about the time frame of life events and so fixated upon the schedule we think God should use that we are easily frustrated with the pace of God’s movement.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says he has made everything beautiful in its time. I don’t have any idea why there was such a long period of silence prior to the time of our text for this morning. I don’t know why God works on a time frame that seem strange to us. But I do know that I am much more trusting of that time frame than I used to be, because over the years I have seen examples of how he has made everything beautiful in its time in my own life and in the lives of others.
When I was in seminary it was difficult to be hundreds of miles away from Tanya, but the time frame turned out for the best. Before we moved to Shelbyville and to this church I felt the spirit was leading me to something different, and I had a timetable in my mind. As much as I wanted to push things and speed up the process, in retrospect I can see how everything fit right into God’s timing.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up. In fact, when the heavenly messenger told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a child Zechariah couldn’t believe such news could ever be true. Because of his failure of belief he was unable to speak until the time of John’s birth, which the angel said would happen at the proper time (1:20). It was a reminder that he has made everything beautiful in its time.
It was a powerful message to Zechariah and Elizabeth of God’s promise and faithfulness. But it wasn’t just for Zechariah and Elizabeth; it was for all people. John the Baptist, the child of Zechariah and Elizabeth, would be the herald of a new day, of the promise that deliverance was at hand.
It is a universal message that rings true for today as well. It is a message of hope and deliverance of all people today. It is a message of hope and deliverance for those who are hopeless; it is a message of hope and deliverance for those who have lost everything or are on the verge of losing everything; it is a message of hope and deliverance to those who have suffered loss; it is a message of hope and deliverance to a world where so many have so little; it is a message of hope and deliverance to a creation that has been used and abused and stands on the precipice of ruin; it is a message of hope and deliverance for war-torn nations and people who have grown weary of violence and oppression; it is a message of hope and deliverance for people who yearn to live and worship in freedom; it is a message of hope and deliverance for people who want to live – there is hope; God has not forgotten us and he will be our deliverer