A Sermon by Rev Frederick M. ChapinCharlotte, North CarolinaDecember 3, 1995
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (LK 1:76-79)
The birth of John the Baptist is a very significant part of the Christmas story. In fact, the Gospel of Luke gives just as much attention to the birth of John the Baptist as it does to the birth of the Lord. It is even interwoven in the treatment of the birth of Christ. Years later, when both were active in their ministries, we can see that before the Lord could minister among the people, John the Baptist had to preach first. John the Baptist being born before the Lord illustrates that the Lord could not teach before John preached his message of repentance. Hence, the great importance of the birth of John the Baptist and of his ministry.
One of the main characters in the birth of John the Baptist is Zacharias, his father. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were devout in following the Old Testament Law. In fact, Zacharias was a priest. However, they were old and childless. They were now resigned to the fact that they would never have children.
Many times in our lives, we face seemingly impossible situations. This is especially true when we are combating our faults, or there are past heartaches that have caused us great pain. At times, there may be the great appearance that we will always be oppressed with the emotional scars from the memories of the past or failures in overcoming our bad habits. Like Zacharias, we may resign ourselves that we will never be able to get what we desire. Zacharias faithfully worshiped the Lord, but so long as he believed that there were things the Lord could not deliver, his worship was not full or complete. Likewise, if there are aspects in our lives that we conclude that even the Lord Himself can not heal or overcome, our worship will be lacking. We would do well to reflect upon Zacharias, when we are confronted with situations that gives a strong appearance of impossibility.
An angel came to Zacharias and told him the wonderful news that he and his wife would have their lifelong dream come true. They would have a son who would accomplish wonderful things, and be instrumental in the Lord’s ministry. Because Zacharias had the resignation that he would remain childless, he could not respond with joy nor accept this wonderful news. Instead, he reacted with doubt and skepticism. Such is the tragedy of having an attitude of doubt and hopelessness. If such is the case, when our deliverance comes, we are blind to see it or accept it.
The situation of Zacharias and Elizabeth is strikingly similar to Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament. They too were childless in their old age, when they had Isaac. Zacharias, being a priest, was quite familiar with this story. He should have known that what happened to Abraham could happen to him also. Yet, Zacharias felt that while healing may come to others, his needs would not and could not be filled. Likewise, we may know passages in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Writings for the New Church which speaks of the Lord’s infinite power and that all things are possible for Him. Yet, when it comes to our own particular problems and dilemmas, we have the resignation that we are hopelessly lost. We must develop the heart felt belief that there is no problem the Lord can not deal with, especially our personal problems and afflictions.
Zacharias did eventually have a belief that contained more confidence that the Lord could resolve his troubles. He had a stronger faith by going through a period where he was mute. While he could not talk, he had the opportunity to do more reflecting and listening. While he was mute, he could see that his wife would indeed bear a child. For us to develop an effective confidence that the Lord can deliver us, we must go through a period of reflection of how His Word can be applied to our particular situations. We must silence our skepticism. We must be quite and allow the Lord’s ways to become more and more manifest before us.
When John the Baptist was actually born and circumcised, Zacharias was able to speak again. Now, there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to have a son, and he even fully recognized that this son would make a great contribution in preparing the people for the teachings of the Lord. And when Zacharias was able to speak, he immediately praised God and gave a powerful and confident prophecy concerning the purpose of his son’s ministry. When we compare Zacharias after John’s birth to what he was like before, we can see that his ignorance and skepticism was replaced with wisdom. He came from a state of silence to a state of beautifully articulating the promise that would be fulfilled by both John and the Lord. And Zacharias certainly felt great joy not only because at long last he finally received a child, but also because he knew that the ministry of his son would lead directly to the establishment of the Lord’s promised kingdom upon the earth.
We too enter into a state of spiritual wisdom when we seek to become conjoined with the Lord. When the Lord directs our lives, we will see what the priorities in us should be; what we should consider important, and what is of less value. Spiritual wisdom is knowing how to apply spiritual truths to life. When we have the proper perspective of life, we are spiritually wise. And when we have the correct ordering of loves in our lives, we are then said to be blessed by the Lord. This is taught in the Arcana Coelestia:
They who (confess and acknowledge the Lord from the heart) cannot but be blessed by the Lord, that is, be gifted with those things which belong to blessing, namely, with celestial, spiritual, natural, worldly, and corporeal good; these, when they follow each other in this order, are the goods in which there is happiness. (AC 1422)
The only way we can be genuinely happy from the Lord is to become spiritually wise. All we have to do to attain such wisdom is to obey the Word. The Word teaches us how we can allow the Lord to properly order our loves so we will focus on those things that will last to eternity. When our priorities are properly ordered, we will have a steadfast confidence that the Lord can overcome our troubles and enable us to accomplish great things for His Church and His Kingdom in the heavens. If our loves are in the right place, we will praise the Lord like Zacharias did when he rejoiced more for the ministry of his son than for his birth.
John’s ministry was to preach repentance. When the people were willing to change their ways, the Lord was able to appear and preach salvation. (TCR 688-691) The same is true for us. The only way we can allow the Lord to make a personal advent into each one of our lives is through repentance. Only when we are willing to change, and allow the Lord to create us into a new person, can the Lord bring salvation to us. Repentance brings about a spiritual confidence in the Lord. And we repent simply by refusing to indulge in the things that we know are against the Lord’s Word. When this happens, we are prepared to receive the Lord’s direction into our lives. Wherever the Lord is received, there is everlasting peace. We will love our neighbor and truly delight in things that benefit him or her. This peace comes when we strive to learn the truths of the Word with the intent to do genuine uses.
If we should go around this room, everyone of us could reveal personal challenges that appear to be impossible to be removed or resolved. It may be a tragedy in the past that still effects us. It may be some disappointment in which some aspects of our lives are not working out as we had originally hoped. Or it may be some character flaw or habit that we know is wrong, but we can not seem to remove it from our lives. We are dealing with it just as much today as we ever did in the past. There does not seem to be signs of improvement or advancement. During this Christmas season, when we are reminded of the Lord’s birth upon the earth, we have the opportunity to call to mind that the Lord can overcome any affliction that we will ever encounter, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual. Our celebration of the Lord’s birth can be most precious, if we sincerely believe that He can overcome any affliction, no matter how prominent. This Advent season can increase our confidence in these words of the Lord spoken to his disciples on who can be saved, “With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” (MT 19:26)