"When You're Expecting"#89-15
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 12, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 1:26-80
Well, another surge may be on the way. I don't mean of the COVID-19 variety. I'm referring to a rise in cases of another kind, a baby surge. New research from a major hospital system suggests that a post-pandemic baby boom is coming. And I don't know about you, but after almost two years of hearing headlines about surges of that other kind, a baby boom strikes me as good news. For all the challenges and hardships that a pregnancy can bring, it's still a good thing. That's why we call it, "expecting."
I think back on the four times that my wife, Amy, and I were expecting. It's a strange, in-between time. You're already fully and completely a mother, or a father, to this child. Biologically speaking, you'll never be more of a mother or a father than you already are right now, but you're still expecting. Because you know there's more to come. It's already and not yet. It's already because life has already begun. New human has already been created at the moment of conception. Already, all the DNA, all the genetics are present; the die is cast; the ship has sailed. There's no turning back that biological clock. It's already happened. And, at the same time, not yet. That human life is not yet what he or she was created to be. And for the parents, the new reality has not yet fully set in because the baby has not yet been delivered, and there may still be complications—problems that can make our expectation stand still. When you're expecting, it's a strange, surreal, in-between time. And this gap between what is already and what is not yet, is an expected part of it.
During this time of year, followers of Jesus of Nazareth all around the world have entered into a season called, "Advent." Advent is a season of expecting. It reminds the followers of Jesus that we are also in this strange, surreal, in-between time of already and not yet. Observing Advent helps Jesus' followers remember how God's people, Israel, long ago were expecting the arrival of their Messiah, their King to come and save them from sin, and death, and the power of the devil. And He arrived. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. And, on the third day, He rose again from the dead, and He lives now to give new life in the Spirit for all who trust in Him, all who follow Him.
Earlier, when I was talking about being pregnant, obviously, I wasn't speaking from personal experience. I don't know what it's really like. But now, talking about Jesus, I am speaking from personal experience. I know what it's like. I have been baptized as one of His followers already. I have experienced the power of His kingdom coming in ways I can't fully articulate. Already, I have known the new life of His Spirit. Already, I have been welcomed into His church, into the communion of His saints. And I welcome you to join us too, if you haven't already. Or if you've drifted away. Follow Jesus with us because with Him, everything has been conceived already. And following Him, we should also expect this gap between what is already and what is not yet. Because today, we are still expecting the second arrival of our Messiah, and the season of Advent helps us remember that. And listening to the Bible helps us feel it. Listen to how it goes in the Bible, in the Gospel according to Luke 1. To review, Luke has already introduced us to an elderly couple named Zachariah and Elizabeth. They're Jewish, they belong to the people of Israel and, like many of their people, they have big expectations for the Messiah, for the coming kingdom of God. And rightly so, because God Himself gave them these expectations. Through the prophets, God said the Messiah would come. He would forgive their sin. He would set them free from their enemies, and restore the promised land. God said it would be like replanting the Garden of Eden. That God's Spirit would come and the dead would rise in heaven. And earth would be reborn all over again.
And so conceiving this promise, God ends the angel Gabriel to tell Zachariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are about to be expecting. They will have a son. They will name him John. And John will become the final prophet to prepare the way for the Messiah and His kingdom. But Zachariah has serious doubts. See, all her life Elizabeth, his wife, has had fertility problems, and now she's past her childbearing years. But the angel tells Zachariah that it's going to happen. And because Zachariah didn't believe it, he won't be able to talk until this takes place. And it happens just like the angel said, Elizabeth becomes pregnant, and Zachariah becomes silent.
And now we pick up the story at Luke 1:26, when God sends the same angel to the future mother of the Messiah. And, as you hear it, listen for that gap between what is already and what is not yet.
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, who was of the house of the family line of King David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel went to her and he said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you." And Mary was greatly troubled at his word. And she was wondering what kind of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God. And look, you will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you will call His Name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord. God will give Him the throne of His father, David. And He will reign as King over the house of Jacob, over Israel, forever into the coming ages. And there will be no end to His kingdom."
And Mary said, "How will this be, since I have never been with a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. And so the Holy One to be born to you will be called the Son of God. And look, even Elizabeth, your relative, is expecting a son in her old age. And she who is called barren is in her sixth month because nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Look, I am the Lord's servant; may it be to me as you have said." And the angel left her.
And in those days, Mary got ready and traveled quickly to a city in the hill country of Judah. And she entered the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb leapt. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she called out with a great cry, "Blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb. But how has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For look, as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For the Lord has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden. For behold, from this day, all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things to me. And holy is His Name. And His mercy is on all those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm, and He has scattered the proud and the imagination of their hearts. He has cast down the mighty from their throne, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. And the rich, He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever." And Mary remained with Elizabeth for about three months. Then she returned to her home.
Now, the time was fulfilled for Elizabeth to give birth. And she bore a son. And her neighbors and her relatives heard how the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they rejoiced with her. And it happened on the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call the child after the name of his father Zachariah. But his mother spoke up and said, "No, he will be called John." They said to her, "There is no one in your family by that name." And they gestured to his father, Zachariah to see what he wanted him to be called. And Zachariah asked for a writing tablet, and he wrote saying, John is his name. And they were all amazed. And instantly Zachariah's mouth was opened, and his tongue was unfastened, and he began to speak, blessing God. And it happened that great fear came upon all his neighbors, and these things were talked about in all the hill country of Judea. And everyone who heard them set them in their heart saying, "What then will this child be?" But the Lord's hand was with him.
And his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesied saying, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. He has come to His people and redeemed them. He is raised up for us, a mighty Savior, born of the house of His servant, David, through His holy prophets. He promised of all that He would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers to remember His holy covenant. This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham to set us free from the hands of our enemies. Free to worship Him, to serve Him without fear. Holy and righteous in His sight, all the days of our lives.
And you, my child, you will be called the prophet of the Most High. And you will go on before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. The dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." And the child, John, grew and became strong in the Spirit. And he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Every time I hear this story and I listen to Zachariah and Elizabeth and Mary, I am amazed at their great expectations. And how their expectations can become ours. Because this story of God's kingdom isn't fantasy. It's not just a metaphor, or an idea, and it's so much greater than simply going to heaven when we die. God's kingdom, coming in Jesus, the beginning of new life for God's creation. God's Spirit conceives this new expectation in us. We are expecting a new world to be born, expecting the dead to be raised, freed from sin and the power of evil.
Now, when this got started, neither Mary, nor Elizabeth, nor Zachariah knew that this kingdom would be conceived through Jesus' death on a cross. And after Jesus rose from the dead, no one conceived just how long this kingdom gestation would be, how it would grow, according to God's due date and in God's way. How faith in Jesus would spread word of mouth around the whole world. How the proud would be humbled and the humbled uplifted, and their feet set on the path toward peace. Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah—they couldn't conceive it. And neither can we. But we are still expecting, expecting God to deliver on His promise.
I recently spoke with a friend who is participating in that post-COVID baby boom that may be coming. When we talked, she and her husband were expecting, they were just a few weeks away from her due date. She reflected on the experience. "It was surreal," she said. "Here, you have this little plastic stick telling you you're pregnant. And that's it." She had said to herself, "I don't feel pregnant, but I guess this is true." And soon, the flutters and kicks, and somersaults were signs of the truth. And now, for eight months, she's lived this expectation almost to its fulfillment. And she said, "It's odd, I have not yet met this baby, but I already have her. The connection is already so strong. And I know there's more to come."
And so also with us, followers of Jesus. Here, we have this message that has come to us, word of mouth, from ancient Israel, telling us that Jesus has arrived. He is our King already. He is our Savior already. And through faith in Him, a new world is already being born. We may not feel different, but we have these signs that show us the truth. Baptism, the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the public reading of the Bible, the church gathering for prayer, and sending out her members to labor, even to suffer for what is good.
The world has not yet been delivered. We are not yet what we will be. We have yet to see Jesus face to face, but He has us. We have Him. And we expect more.
So, pray with me. Stir up your power, O Lord, and come that we by Your mighty deliverance may be saved from all our sins through Jesus, the Messiah, our Lord. Amen.
Reflections for December 12, 2021
Title: When You're Expecting
Mark Eischer: At lutheranhour.org, you'll find FREE resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and much more-all at lutheranhour.org. And now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Today I am visiting with Dr. Jeff Gibbs. He is a longtime teacher of the Bible in our church body, and we are blessed to have him with us. Thanks for being here, Jeff.
Jeff Gibbs: It's a pleasure, Mike. Thanks for having me on the show.
Mike Zeigler: Last time we talked about the Gospel according to Luke and the theme of reversal, that Jesus has come, as you said, to put the world right side up. It's upside down and it needs to be set up right. And another way of saying this and another way that Luke says it is that Jesus has come to bring the kingdom of God or the rule, the reign, of God.
Mike Zeigler: So let's start with the simple question, the basic question: what does this mean—the rule and reign of God or the kingdom of God.
Jeff Gibbs: The reign of God, it's His activity. It's the deeds that He does as King to put the world right. So, it's the reigning, the kinging of God. To think of the kingdom almost always as action. The King is here. What is He doing and how is He doing it? God has decided in Jesus to be King, but in unexpectedly, weak ways. Not in ways that we would've chosen, not in ways that we even would expect. And of course, the classic example of this is the cross.
Mike Zeigler: And those who would try to live like they believe it's true, are going to be a little bit out of joint, out of line. A lot of them.
Jeff Gibbs: Pretty much out of joint with a lot of the values, if I can use that word, that are in the world around them. No matter what century you live in, no matter what country or culture you live in, there's always going to be that disconnect between how the King is reigning and how He calls us to live under His reign and what the world around us says is good and right and successful.
Mike Zeigler: Early on in this chapter, Luke 1, we hear this announcement from the angel Gabriel to Mary. He says that her Son, Jesus, is going to receive the kingdom of His father David and His kingdom will last forever. What would a Jewish person like Mary or any other Jewish person at that time, what would they think? What were the expectations for the King, the Messiah?
Jeff Gibbs: I think the first thing to say about that is that they weren't all the same. It's kind of like what do American Christians think today?
Mike Zeigler: Not all the same.
Jeff Gibbs: Well, kind of the same about some things. And so I think we should actually let go of the idea that there was a common, unified understanding and expectation of what it would be like when God breaks into the world to be King, when the Savior comes, when the Messiah comes. But I do think that some of the things you could count on is that He would put the world right, because the world is broken. And part of the brokenness of the world is evil men are in charge. And now I'm talking about the Romans. These are cruel idolaters; they're in charge of the Holy Land, which God has promised to His people. And so, I think a common expectation, which we should not trivialize is that He would put the world right, and He would restore the Holy Land. My first response is, "Well, what's wrong with that?"
The day is coming, Michael, when God will literally cast down every evil ruler from his throne. He will reestablish justice and peace in all the world. And He will renew the face of the earth. But the unexpected thing that I don't think any Jewish person could have really thought is that this is going to be a two-step process.
First, He's going to reign in lowliness and humility, embracing even hated people like Roman centurions. What!? Dying on the cross, rising from the dead, calling people to follow Him in a way that seems very weak, ineffective, impotent, powerless. In a way that would lead Jesus' followers to say, "We would seek to love our enemies and not hate them." And that's the way it is now, the day is coming, when every evil will be overthrown. And as I said, the face of the earth will be renewed. But God's plan is not to do it that way, yet.
Mike Zeigler: We're in this middle step, this middle time, when evil is still reigning, the world is still upside down in many ways. How does Jesus bringing of the kingdom set us free and set us on our feet to live counter to the way things are?
Jeff Gibbs: Right. Well, He calls us. Lutherans and other Christians would simply say, "That's the power of His Word." His Word enters our hearts. We're baptized into His death and resurrection. And we simply begin to think in new ways. We begin to value new things. What's the most important thing about me? At our congregation some years ago to help completely uncatechized children, completely untaught children, begin to grasp some of the basics of the Christian faith, our pastors were teaching them to make the sign of the cross. But instead of saying, "In the Name of the Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit," to these kids, they couldn't even spell Jesus. I'll just say it that way. They taught them to make the sign of the cross and say, "I belong to Jesus."
You start there. And then, well, since I belong to Jesus, what's important? Well, belonging to Him, and that's where I can find my joy. And oh wait, there are other people who belong to Him, too. And so the life that we live—this is a beautiful thing in the Gospel of Luke; it's in all the Gospels—is how when Jesus saves someone, He restores them to the community. And so, I need you, and you need me, and to live this right-side-up life, we need each other. And to figure out, how are we going to manifest the fact that we have come under God's gracious, loving reign? Jesus is our King. How will we relate to our neighbors? How will we use our money? What are the choices we will make? It is actually a life, and depending on where you live and what your gifts are and what your different vocations and callings are, it'll look a little different.
Mike Zeigler: Our lives as God's people, as the followers of Jesus, are going to look more and more like Jesus and yet not alone. We do this together.
Jeff Gibbs: Right. In community. I get scared and I get confused and I'm not sure what to do. And so I think it may be helpful for me as a Christian, I'm a member of a congregation. Somehow it's gotten easy to think of what that means is to go to church on Sunday which, by the way, is the center of it, I can't do without that very long, but there's more to it. There's the way I interact with those people. The way we live together to serve our community.
And again, we serve our communities also in our normal neighborhoods and our jobs and all those other things as well. But it may be the case that it's getting darker out there, and American culture is mounting opposition to Christianity more vigorously. I think that's probably true. So the time may come when we need one another a little more, obviously than we do now, just to support one another in basic ways. I'm not a prophet. I don't know if that's true. Mostly, I think that we should just try to love one another and follow Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks for being with us.
Jeff Gibbs: Yep. Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)