December 20, 2016
Artwork: The Angel and The Priest by Javier Solis, 2016
Psalm 66 · Isaiah 11:10-16
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
“Get this! The house God lives in is now with people, and he will settle down amongst them and they will be his people and God himself will be their God, right there with them!” (Rev 21:3). It’s breath-taking, isn’t it? God living right in your city, so close, so tangible! God speaks these words to John near the end of Revelation after the final judgment, when the New Jerusalem is descending to earth. I long for that day. It will be, I imagine, a day of unparalleled nearness and intimacy with God. But this has happened before! During Advent we anticipate the first time God came and lived with us here on earth. In fact, the word John uses to say that God will “settle down” among us at the end of all things is the same word he used to describe the Word-made-flesh “settling down” among us (John 1:14). God’s first settling down as Jesus initiated the process that will culminate with his coming to settle down among us again, this time forever.
Revelation describes God’s coming to live with us with great pomp and circumstance. A beautiful city, made up as beautifully and extravagantly as a bride, descends from heaven to the newly re-created earth. Likewise, there is a big todo about the birth of Jesus. It’s not enough for Jesus to be miraculously born of a virgin to the fanfare of a jubilant choir of angels. It’s not even enough for a prophet to go before Jesus, announcing his coming and preparing a way for him. The birth of that prophet must be foretold by an angel as well. Here we see the tender love of God so often displayed throughout the Bible. He chooses to send this prophet, not through a royal family or a rich family, but to a disgraced, aging woman who has failed to produce children, the primary means of achieving “success” as a woman in first century Palestine, and to her husband who shares with her the pain of not being able to have children. So often, when God intervenes with a great work in human history, he takes the opportunity to mend the broken heart of a barren, disgraced, broken woman: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the unnamed mother of Samson, Hannah. It’s this God who goes out of his way to mend the broken hearts of these disgraced women who settled down among us in Jesus, whose Spirit lives in our hearts, who will settle down among us again in his new creation. This is indeed reason to celebrate this Advent season!