Father, we praise you that you are a promise-keeping God. You never change or become unreliable. Help us to be strengthened in our faith in you this morning, and to be cheered and encouraged by the tenderness of your mercy to us in Jesus. God has kept his promises! Promises. Made any recently? Intend to make any? Anything you'll say you do is a form of promise. We get cynical about them because of our experience. Go to the park on Saturday, but then dad gets ill Politicians will sort out XYZ, but then they forget all about it Church leader says I'll think about it and email you back, but then never does Often the preparation is part and parcel of the follow-through. I'll build you a tree house. Dad's gone to wickes/b and q! You're going to have an operation. And now the anaesthetist is putting you to sleep! Orchestra about to play huge symphony; but first the team is in setting up, laying out, clearing up over night. The preparation for something helps us understand the nature of that thing (eg a wedding, or a movie launch). ...they are somehow all answered in this baby, and what he will prepare for; the coming of the Lord. 1. God prepared to keep his promises - in the birth of John Last of the OT prophets. Like Elijah. Wilderness v80. v57-67. Divine calling and ownership of John from before birth. v68 he 'has redeemed'; i.e. although Jesus is not yet born, the birth of John shows this is all irreversibly kicked into action. v76-77 go before to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of their sins. Mark's gospel - prepare the Way for him. Wedding? Ushers etc prepare the way. Surgeon cleans and cleans again the skin before cutting. 2. God kept his promises to save his people - in the birth of Jesus ...this is what we remember and celebrate at Christmas! Note that at this stage it's still not precisely clear how all this will happen; but the certainty is that it's all kicking off now. 2 Corinthians 1.19-20. What does this actually mean? 'Truly.' a horn of salvation, from David's house v69 (itself from Judah), just like the prophets said v70-71 the mercy promised v72 v73 the covenant/oath to Abraham deliverance, v74; deliverance to serve Him without fear v75 They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righeousness before Him, all the days of our lives. [LBCF XX1.3] tender mercy shall visit us v78 'bowels of compassion'. Father and child. It's precisely this tender mercy that we're prone to forget as we go on as Christians; we can forget that all this plan is driven by the tender mercy of God. He could have been just to allow us to continue in darkness! But in mercy he became what he was not, remaining what he had always been. light to those in darkness and death, and the way of peace (ie wholeness - re-edenification) v79. NB - the Way; Psalm 1. Early church saw themselves as followers of 'the Way'. Psalm 81, O that my people would walk in my ways. Glory of God: He keeps His promises. He visits His people with tender mercy - both as individuals (Elizabeth) and in his grand plan. FCF: we're in darkness and the shadow of death...from Eden's fall, and our ongoing choice. By nature: we died in Adam. Darkened in our understanding and unable to put things right ourselves. The proof is that when God visits us the preparation is not a display of human ability, but a calling to repentance. By choice: walking in our own ways of darkness and self-authoring. Either as individuals or communities. Jesus' person: mercy visits us in the flesh. Think of his interactions! Especially when you are broken-hearted. Jesus' work: his tender mercy takes him to death and utter darkness, in order to deliver us from out of darkness and death. [fractal dynamic here] In Jesus' person and work he achieves what all the promises and covenants of God were looking forward to. So that if you are in Christ then you are in the New, glorious covenant - the recipient of the fullness of all his blessings in Jesus. Specific repentance and faith: Believe in the tender mercies of God. If you're going your own way, follow John's call and turn now. Find refuge in God's mercy in Jesus. If you're under a crushing burden of sadness, guilt, shame - hear these precious words. God has visited us in tender mercy. If you're smug and self-satisfied, bored by the gospel - turn away from the darkness of human self-righteousness and flee to the light of Jesus' rule of love. If you're in despair at the state of the world, your life, and everything else: be refreshed by this promise of life, light, and peace - wholeness - Eden - which Jesus has achieved. 1 Peter 1.13, 'set your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.' The Lord's Supper. Here is the memorial of the tender mercies of our Lord. The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches , unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof , their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other. [LBCF XXX.1] Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. [LBCF XXX.7] Advent readings: Genesis 49.10, Numbers 24.17, Psalm 89.1-4 Micah 5.2, Malachi 4.6, 2 Chronicles 36.22-23 Theme of the promised Deliverer coming from Judah/house of David. Thank you for your tender mercy. We are in awe of your mercy.
57 Τῇ δὲ Ἐλισάβετ ἐπλήσθη ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτὴν καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν. 58 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ περίοικοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐμεγάλυνεν κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετʼ αὐτῆς καὶ συνέχαιρον αὐτῇ. 59 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν. 60 καὶ ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν• οὐχί, ἀλλὰ κληθήσεται Ἰωάννης. 61 καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ. 62 ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό. 63 καὶ αἰτήσας πινακίδιον ἔγραψεν λέγων• Ἰωάννης ἐστὶν ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν πάντες. 64 ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν. 65 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πάντας φόβος τοὺς περιοικοῦντας αὐτούς, καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ὀρεινῇ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διελαλεῖτο πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα, 66 καὶ ἔθεντο πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν λέγοντες• τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; καὶ γὰρ χεὶρ κυρίου ἦν μετʼ αὐτοῦ. 67 Καὶ Ζαχαρίας ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ ἐπροφήτευσεν λέγων• 68 Εὐλογητὸς κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτι ἐπεσκέψατο καὶ ἐποίησεν λύτρωσιν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ, 69 καὶ ἤγειρεν κέρας σωτηρίας ἡμῖν ἐν οἴκῳ Δαυὶδ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ, 70 καθὼς ἐλάλησεν διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίων ἀπʼ αἰῶνος προφητῶν αὐτοῦ, 71 σωτηρίαν ἐξ ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς πάντων τῶν μισούντων ἡμᾶς, 72 ποιῆσαι ἔλεος μετὰ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν καὶ μνησθῆναι διαθήκης ἁγίας αὐτοῦ, 73 ὅρκον ὃν ὤμοσεν πρὸς Ἀβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν, τοῦ δοῦναι ἡμῖν 74 ἀφόβως ἐκ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν ῥυσθέντας λατρεύειν αὐτῷ 75 ἐν ὁσιότητι καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ πάσαις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν. 76 Καὶ σὺ δέ, παιδίον, προφήτης ὑψίστου κληθήσῃ• προπορεύσῃ γὰρ ἐνώπιον κυρίου ἑτοιμάσαι ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ, 77 τοῦ δοῦναι γνῶσιν σωτηρίας τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀφέσει ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν, 78 διὰ σπλάγχνα ἐλέους θεοῦ ἡμῶν, ἐν οἷς ἐπισκέψεται ἡμᾶς ἀνατολὴ ἐξ ὕψους, 79 ἐπιφᾶναι τοῖς ἐν σκότει καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου καθημένοις, τοῦ κατευθῦναι τοὺς πόδας ἡμῶν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰρήνης. 80 Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι, καὶ ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις ἕως ἡμέρας ἀναδείξεως αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸν Ἰσραήλ.
The Birth of John the Baptist 57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord s had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And t on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; u he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And v they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for w a writing tablet and wrote, u “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 x And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue y loosed, and he spoke, z blessing God. 65 And a fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all b the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them c laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For d the hand of the Lord was with him. Zechariah’s Prophecy 67 And his father Zechariah e was filled with the Holy Spirit and f prophesied, saying, 68 g “Blessed be the Lord h God of Israel, for he has i visited and j redeemed his people 69 and k has raised up l a horn of salvation for us m in the house of his servant David, 70 n as o he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 p that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 q to show the mercy promised to our fathers and r to remember his holy s covenant, 73 t the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him u without fear, 75 v in holiness and righteousness before him w all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called x the prophet of y the Most High; for z you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people a in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the b tender mercy of our God, whereby c the sunrise shall d visit us 1 e from on high 79 to f give light to g those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into h the way of i peace.” 80 j And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was k in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.