June 24, 2014 – The Nativity of John the Baptist
© 2014 Evan D. Garner
Whether we believe it or not, God keeps his promises. He always does. That’s who God is. That’s who we know him to be—the faithful one. God has shown himself to be the one who is always faithful. There’s never a time when God does not keep his promises. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be God.
Anyone who has run a business knows that it’s dangerous to make claims like that. If you tell the whole world that you will always have a pizza delivered in 30 minutes and you stake your identity on that claim, you’d better follow through…because, if the world discovers that you can’t deliver a pizza in 30 minutes, you’re in trouble. You’re a fraud. You’re a liar. And no one wants to buy pizza from a 30-minute pizza company that takes 45 minutes to make a pizza.
God is the one who always keeps his promises. Always. Always is a long, long, long time. It’s a long time for it not to happen. It’s a long time for God to fail to keep his word. But if that happened, God wouldn’t be God, and we’d be lost. All it would take is one time for God to fail to keep his word, and there would no longer be any reason for anyone to believe in him. In other words, the only way the promise of forever faithfulness is possible is if it’s true.
And you know what? Something funny happens when we believe that. Yes, God always keeps his promises whether we believe it or not, but, when we do believe it, when we stake our whole lives upon it, something happens. We become “children of the promise,” and the power of God’s faithfulness takes hold in our hearts in a way that transforms our lives.
Today is June 24. Tomorrow will be six months until Christmas. In the church calendar, today is the day we remember the birth of John the Baptist. Why June 24? Because when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, he also told her that her relative, Elizabeth, was in the sixth month of her pregnancy with John the Baptist. If you do all of the math and add nine months here and subtract three months there, you end up with a birthday for John right around June 24—today. But what we celebrate today is a lot more than a birthday. Today is a wonderful day to celebrate how God always keeps his promises.
You remember the story. Zechariah and Elizabeth were a devout couple who were unable to have children. Having a baby has always been a sign of God’s blessing, and back then it was even more culturally important to be able to have children. The fact that this couple were unable to have a child was thought to be a sign that God was withholding his blessing from them. Then, one day, while Zechariah was fulfilling his duty as one of the priests in the Jerusalem temple, the angel Gabriel appeared and told him that his wife would have a son whose name would be John. He would be a special child, called by God to “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” He would be the one “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
But for Zechariah this was too good to be true. How could this be? He and his wife were too old to have children. Plus, they had been trying to have a child for a long, long time and knew that it was impossible. Why now? So Zechariah said, “How shall I know this? What sign will you give me so that I will know for sure that I will have this child?” And the angel said, “You want a sign? I’ll give you a sign. I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God. Because you did not believe me, you will be mute—unable to speak—until this promise is fulfilled!” And Zechariah left the temple and went out to those waiting on them. And, when they saw him and figured out that he was unable to speak, they were amazed and wondered what sort of sign he might have seen.
Just like in our culture, people get excited when a baby is coming. As the months passed, word spread throughout the region that the old couple who were unable to have a child were expecting. Those from whom God had withheld his blessing had indeed been blessed. And the strangest thing happened, too. The rumor was that the father was unable to speak, that he had seen an angel, that God himself had brought them this baby. “I wonder what sort of child he might be?” the people whispered to each other. “He must be someone special!”
When the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, her family and closest friends gathered to celebrate the arrival of the new baby. The visitors came and went, bringing food and gifts for the family. And the whole time, Zechariah stood there, smiling but still unable to say a word. He shook the hands of the visitors and patted them on the back in a sign of appreciation, but he couldn’t say anything. He was still mute. On the eighth day, the whole family came together for the tradition of circumcising the baby boy. This was (and still is) the Jewish custom—that a baby boy is given the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and given his name on the eighth day of his life.
Because Zechariah could not speak, they asked Elizabeth what name was to be given the child, and she told them “John,” just as the angel had declared. But that couldn’t be right. No one in their family was named John. Why would they name the baby that? So they turned to Zechariah and began motioning to him, asking him to let them know what name the baby should have. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote down, “His name is John.” And immediately his mouth was unstopped, and he began to sing a song of praise to God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has come to his people and set them free!”
For nine months, Zechariah was forced to think about God’s promise to him. Unable to speak, he spent that time listening—only listening. And, as he listened, he heard more and more clearly the fullness of God’s promise—not only to him but to all God’s people. On the day his son was circumcised, Zechariah confirmed his belief in God’s promise by naming him John. And, as his mouth was opened, he sang a song of promise to all of God’s people.
“God is giving us a savior,” he declared, “a descendant of David to lead us just as he promised long ago. He has remembered the mercy that he promised to our ancestors. He has fulfilled his word to save us from our enemies and all who hate us.” After nine months of listening and thinking about God’s promise, Zechariah had come to believe what the angel had promised: that his son John would prepare the way for all of God’s people to be saved. Although Jesus was still six months away from being born, Zechariah could already see how God’s promise to send his people a savior was being fulfilled.
Sometimes it starts as simply as that. We hear a promise of God, and we take him at his word, and then the faith that comes from believing in God spreads through our heart and leads us to see how amazing God really is. God has promised to save us. In Jesus Christ, God has shown the world that he will always love us. That’s the biggest promise we can ever receive. The empty tomb is God’s way of saying to us that even when we give him our worst—even when we crucify his only son—he will still redeem us and save us from our sins. That’s a hard thing to believe—that sinners as bad as you and me are still given God’s unconditional love. But it’s true. It’s God’s promise to you. And he’s asking you to believe it.
What might happen if you take God at his word? What might happen if you stop letting the world tell you what a failure you are and start hearing God say that he loves you anyway? What might happen to your life and in your heart if you believed that God has promised to love you no matter how bad things get? What might happen? Could your acceptance of his promise lead you to see even more of how God has promised to take care of you? Could a first step of saying, “Yes, Lord, I believe,” be all it takes for you to know the life God has in store for you?
God has promised to love you no matter what. That’s what Jesus really means. Will you believe that? Can you believe that it’s true? Say yes to God’s promise and watch what happens. Amen.