The Scandal of Christmas
“Elizabeth’s Elation at the Incarnation!”
Gospel of Luke 1:46-55 (NLT)
December 11, 2016 (3rd Sunday of Advent)
Pastor Jerry Ingalls
What a joy for us to tell the best story ever told for the next 3 Sundays—it is the Christmas Story! During Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation for the Coming of the Messiah, we will gather weekly to declare that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified on a Roman Cross, raised from the dead on the 3rd day, and coming again soon to right every wrong. Come Lord Jesus!
But at the time of Jesus’ birth (2,016 years ago), God had been silent for 400 years (Are you able yet to truly comprehend how long 400 years is actually?).
Every year that went by, the imagination of the people got bigger and so did the disappointment of God’s silence. But God, you promised…WHEN?
In the midst of this overwhelming silence enters the Christmas story! Enters the Promised One…enters God, the main character of the show… After 400 years of silence, God breaks into history to tell His story…
Listen carefully to the Christmas story because God’s breaking in to the world was not a power play! God declared His plan to the least likely of people…the foolish of the world! Never forget that God handpicked the eye witness to the Christmas miracle; each one has a significant story to tell, and one of those people was an elderly barren woman who had given up all hope of God breaking into her story.
Listen to the greatest story ever told, the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah, through the eyes of an elderly woman who had first-hand experience with God breaking His silence through a miracle of God’s richest provision—a baby—and was now chosen by God to experience what the church would not experience until Pentecost 32 years later—the filling of the Holy Spirit!
Listen to one of the most amazing eye witness reports through the experience of Elizabeth & her unborn baby John, found in the Gospel of Luke 1:39-45 (NLT), “A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.’”
Show Skit Guys “Elizabeth” video. [*Thank you to skitguys.com for their “sermon helps” sheet for some great insights on Elizabeth and her point of view!]
To understand Elizabeth’s point of view and willingness to believe the most scandalous part of the Christmas story, in fact the greatest scandal of theology in history—the incarnation (God who is Spirit took on flesh and dwelt amongst us)—we must understand the background of her story.
Listen to the backstory of Elizabeth from the Gospel of Luke 1:5-25, “When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. 11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.’ 18 Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.’ 19 Then the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.’ 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.
23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 ‘How kind the Lord is!’ she exclaimed. ‘He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.’”
It might have been easier for Elizabeth to believe the incarnation because of God’s recent track record with filling her barren womb with abundance, but a virgin birth is still a virgin birth, and we have to have trust in who God is and His ability to fulfill His promises if we too are to believe such a scandalous reality.
Listen to the chorus from Michael Card’s song, “God’s Own Fool”:
“When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
So we follow God’s own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well”
What can we learn about the Christmas story from the point of view of Elizabeth?
The first worshippers of the Incarnate God were an old woman and her unborn baby John jumping up and down in her barren womb. A woman who never lost FAITH in God for great miracles!
“God is making life out of barren places!”
But, when I watch the news, I wonder if God has left us to our own devices and we are reaping what we have sown. This mess of a world sure is what we deserve…
“God is making life out of barren places!”
But, when I deal with my own insecurities, fear, and doubts, I wonder if this can all really be true…can I trust not just that God is good, but that he’s good enough to handle me and my situations too.
“God is making life out of barren places!”
What do we think of when we hear the word barren? A desert, a waste land…?
Barren is a nightmare of a word we used to use for women who could not have children. We don’t use it anymore…for most of us it is out of circulation because of the pain induced by the use of this word. It’s an honest word, but it’s a cruel word! It’s meaning inflicts the soul with despair and disappointment, in me and in God’s seemingly unwillingness or impotence to act on our behalf: BARREN!
Let its vulgarity sink in…
But Elizabeth heard this word, it was personalized and used about her, against her…for years, decades! I can only imagine what people would say, “Her husband is a priest, but what kind of priest can he really be if his wife is barren…I don’t want him sacrificing for my sin…God clearly doesn’t listen to him, just look at them…what a disgrace of a ministry couple!” Can you imagine the cruelty and gossip? It became a word that she had wrapped her self-understanding around…and cried out to God to act well into old age, and so much time had gone by, too much time had gone by, her womb was old and dead–BARREN!
In Elizabeth’s time, a woman’s worth was measured by the children she gave to her husband. If you had children, especially sons that meant God favored you and he was blessing you. And if you had no children…that could only mean that God was angry! They commonly thought that a barren woman was being punished for her sin and that her barrenness was a sign of God’s lack of favor.
What is the opposite of the word barren?
It is abundance! ABUNDANCE… Taste that word on your lips, go ahead taste how sweet it is…ABUNDANCE! It means to have plenty… it is a place of rich provision in the midst of the desert places of life!
In John 10:10, Jesus uses this word about the miracle of the incarnation, saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (emphasis added).
JESUS CAME TO REPLACE BARRENNESS WITH ABUNDANCE! Isaiah 9:6 foretells this truth of our Christmas miracle, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
That is what we learn from Elizabeth’s ELATION at the Incarnation: “God is making life out of barren places!” That abundant life has a name and the name is Jesus! He is the plenty in the midst of the desert places of the world! This is God breaking into our stories; this is Good News!
God is desiring to make life happen in your barren places…starting in the deepest need of your soul. God desires to make something beautiful out of your ashes…from the inside out…
Are there some barren places in your life you are willing to invite Jesus into this morning? Let us come to God and ask…
On December 18th join us as we present a Christmas Musical focusing on The Scandal of Christmas!