Year A : Christmas Eve 2004 - Luke 1:67-79
Luke 1:67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: 68 "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us-- 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
Tony Collins holds the Guinness World
Record for the longest wait on a hospital trolley after spending 77
hours and 30 minutes stuck outside the toilets in the Princess Margaret
Hospital, Swindon, UK, between February 24 and 27, 2001.
"I'd contracted a virus," said Tony, "and although I was taken in at 3 p.m. on the Saturday, it wasn't until 8.30 p.m. on the Tuesday that I was found a bed in another ward, when an elderly patient was moved to make room for me."
"I developed a bad back, had no privacy, and had to rely on the nurses to bring me a drink because there was nowhere to rest a jug!"
Despite his ordeal, Tony, a diabetic, returned to the hospital the day after he was released to thank the nurses who helped him deal with his pain ? and give them a gift of a microwave oven!
What are you waiting for? Waiting for Christmas day; for Santa/presents; for visit from family; a special Christmas meal; for New Year. Perhaps you are waiting for it all to be over so you can get back to normality!
Zechariah had been waiting for the birth of his first child for years. He and his wife Elizabeth were older and childless until God gave them John, who would later be known as John the Baptist. Zechariah knew that John would prepare the way for the saviour that God was sending, and today's reading is a song of praise about the salvation that God was bringing. A salvation that John would prepare people for, and point them to.
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
There is a contrast in these verses. Between light and darkness, forgiveness of sins and the shadow of death, peace and alienation.
The Bible teaches that people go their own way in life. That we fail to love God completely. That we fail to love other people as ourselves. These failure are what the bible calls 'sin'. They spoil our relationship with God, something the Bible calls 'death'. The death of our relationship with God. This is what the passage was referring to when Zechariah referred to darkness and the shadow of death.
Jesus showed an alternative way to live. He always followed God's ways and always loved other people more than himself. He spread the light of God around him. He brought the forgiveness of God, but not just for those he had contact with 2,000 years ago. Jesus was unjustly sentenced to death on the cross and, as he went through that tortuous physical death he also endured spiritual death, a spoiling of his relationship with God. This is because Jesus, who never did any wrong, voluntarily took upon himself the punishment for the sins of the world. He opened the way to God for those who will follow him along that way.
Tomorrow we celebrate a birth of a baby who was God and man. Who would have been forgotten had he not died and rose again. The resurrection of Jesus is God's confirmation that he accepted Jesus' self-sacrifice on the cross. It shows that those who are united with Jesus will also receive resurrection bodies and be with God forever, like Jesus.
As we come forward to receive the bread and wine tonight this is symbolic. It represents the way that we approach God. Our open hands a picture of the way we much approach God. Open and honest about our sin, reaching out for his forgiveness secured through Jesus death and resurrection. As we receive the bread and wine and consume them it stand for the way that we must invite Jesus into our lives and the way he must become part of us.
Earlier I talked about waiting. Stephan Kovaltchuk spent 57 years in his attic in Montchintsi, Ukraine, before emerging at the age of 75 in September 1999 because his sister, who had looked after him, had died. Having originally gone into hiding from the Nazis, who occupied Ukraine in 1942, he remained in isolation to avoid the draft by the Russians after the Red Army's victory over the Germans.
We may think this man was foolish, that he had missed out on many things that life offers. Until someone decides to follow Jesus they are missing out on so much that God has for them. What are you waiting for? The offer of forgiveness for sin and a right relationship with God is there for everybody, through Jesus. This will bring us peace with God, ourselves and others. It will bring the joy of walking in the ways of God, helped by His Holy Spirit who lives in every Christian. This is the best gift that you could open this Christmas.
Many people have questions about the Christian faith and, next month we are running an "Alpha Course" that allows people to ask questions and find out more about Christianity. If you would find this helpful please complete and return one of the forms that accompanied tonight's service sheet. Many people who have attended this course have passed from darkness into life, from despair into hope, from alienation to peace, from the shadow of death to a fullness of life.
What are you waiting for, this Christmas?