Let God’s Angels Help You:
Listen for Your Angel Voices
December 9, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.
When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! This Advent season we are exploring a series of sermons called “Let God’s Angels Help You.” And the title and the topic of this sermon today is “Listen for Your Angel Voices.”
It’s Christmas time, and all around we see images of angels decorating our trees and our greeting cards. We sing songs – “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king” and “Angels we have heard on high.” We are surrounded by images of angels. But as Christian people, as people who dig deeply into the Bible, we need to ask the questions, “Who are these angels? What does the Bible mean when it talks about them? What do they do? And, are they among us still? Do they have a message for each of us?”
Let’s explore this together. Last week, we talked a little bit about who the angels are. If you recall, we discussed the idea that angels are spiritual entities created by God to be God’s messengers. That’s who they are. And there’s no doubt about it – angels fill the Bible. And as Bible-believing people, we need to look into this, and to see what the message of the angels is for us. Angels are messengers of God, created of God, and bringing to us God’s messages of love.
In this morning’s Gospel, we have a remarkable account of an angel, even as we did last week when Gabriel visited Mary. In this morning’s account, we hear of a gentleman by the name of Zechariah. Who was Zechariah? Zechariah was an elderly man. He was a priest in Jerusalem. Now, a little bit of background. Everyone born to the tribe of Aaron was automatically a priest. Men and women were of the priestly class. What did that mean? That meant that there were way too many priests! There were thousands and thousands of them, thousands and thousands of descendents of Aaron. And so, in order for these priests to perform priestly functions, things had to be organized. So, each priest worked, basically, two weeks out of the year. And the jobs had to be distributed among the group of priests that worked those two weeks. Who got to make the sacrifice? Who got to say the prayer? Who was able to do the most important job of all, burn the incense after the sacrifice?
How was this determined? It was determined by lot. In other words, all the names were put into a box, and the names were drawn out to do the special jobs of the priest. Now, the most special job of all was that of burning incense after the daily sacrifice. Each day, a spotless lamb, one year old, was sacrificed. And after the burning of the sacrifice, one priest was allowed to go in to the inner holy place, the place that was the Holy of Holies, and sprinkle incense on the fire. Incense was like pieces of dried tree sap that, when sprinkled on the fire, gave off a beautiful perfume and smoke that rose up. And for the people of that time, the smoke that rose up was like the prayers of the people that rose up to God in a good and pleasing way. And oh! to be the priest that had that particular job! It was the privilege of privileges. Most priests never got to do it in their lifetimes.
But guess what happened? Zechariah’s name was drawn, and he would be the one to go into the Holy of Holies. Finally, at his advanced age, he would be the one to spread the incense upon the burning coals and watch the beautiful smoke rise and smell its beautiful fragrance.
Zechariah was married to a woman named Elizabeth. It was very important for the priestly class to marry women who were also descendents of Aaron, and Elizabeth certainly was. But they had a problem, and it weighed heavily on Zechariah’s heart: they had no children. And for people of that day, to have no children was a very great burden, and a disgrace. We have to know that burden was heavy on his heart, even as he went to celebrate this most spectacular of privileges. Here he was, this elderly priest, with this ache on his heart, going in to celebrate the most favored job of any of the priestly class.
His heart must have been beating fast as he entered the Holy of Holies and began to spread incense upon the burning coals. And as he stood and watched, something spectacular happened. There was to the right of the altar a figure, a figure of light, glistening. His eyes were visionary, and his face was radiant. And Zechariah was terrified! He didn’t know what was happening.
It was an angel, the angel Gabriel. He said to Zechariah, “Fear not, Zechariah. I have come to bring you good news. Your prayer has been heard. You and your wife will have a son, and he will bring you enormous joy. And he will bring great joy to the people. He will make wonderful changes in people’s lives. He will be great, and he will be blessed.” Such was the message of this angel.
But Zechariah said, “How will I know that this will come true? I am an old man. My wife is on in years, too.”
The angel seemed exasperated. He said to Zechariah, “I am Gabriel. My name means ‘I stand in the presence of God.’ God has sent me to bring you this good news, and you doubt it? I tell you this – from now until the time the child is born, you will be mute; you will be silent. And you will know that the message I have for you is true.”
Zechariah was overwhelmed with fear and great joy. The thousands of people who were waiting outside of the place where the sacrifice had been offered were still waiting. He was late! He came out onto the porch to give the traditional blessing, and the people knew something had happened, because all Zechariah could say was – nothing! He couldn’t speak! But they knew something great had happened. And by his gestures, they knew that he had seen an angel of the Lord. The angel had silenced his negative voice until the good news came true. And the baby, John, was born to them, and Zechariah got his voice back.
I’d like to explore today, my friends, just a few things about what angels do. And before I tell you these things that I’ve read about in the Bible, I want to say this: I don’t presume to be telling you all the things that angels do, because only God and angels know. So, they probably do many more things than what I tell you. But let me tell you what I’ve read.
It seems to me that angels then – and, I believe, angels now – do three things. They bring words of comfort; they bring words of courage; and they bring words of possibility. Comfort, courage, and possibility – say that out loud.
The first thing angels do is bring comfort. You know, I find it very comforting – do you? – to think that God in His great love for us made these spirits just to help us out. That is what they do. They want to be messengers of Almighty God to us, to you and me, to people. That’s their entire function. They want no prayers or praise. I think it is good to recognize them, but their full function is to help us through hard times, to bring us comfort, to bring us courage, and to tell us about possibilities.
What kind of comfort? It seems that when angels appear they say things like, “Hail, Mary, filled with grace, the Lord is with you.” In other words, “Greetings, Mary, filled with God’s love, God is with you.” What more comforting words are there than those?
Would you, for the moment, just take out Mary’s name and put in your own? “Greetings, [your name], you are filled with God’s love. God is with you.” Think that in your head, won’t you? “Greetings! You are filled with God’s love. God is with you.” What a great comfort that is! That is God’s message, through an angel, to you.
The second thing that angels do is bring us courage. Just about every time I’ve read about an angel encounter in the Bible, the angel says the same thing, “Fear not!” Say it out loud: Fear not! Courage, my friends, fear not! I don’t know about you, but I think that every foolish thing I’ve ever done in my life I did because I feared something. I was afraid of this or that. How about you? What if we took the angel’s voice seriously that said, “Fear not, my friend. God has something good in store for you. Don’t be so afraid. Learn from the past, but don’t drag it into the future. Today is a new day. Fear not!” What if we got up in the morning and let that angel message come to us? “Fear not!” Even if we are afraid of failure, or our ability or our inability, what if we push those fears aside and hear the angel saying, “Fear not!”? What marvelous things we could accomplish if we simply took those angelic words seriously!
I invite you to take those words seriously. I invite you to take those words home with you. And whatever it is that you’re fearing, whatever it is that is holding you back, say, “I’m going to listen to my angel voice, and I’m going to take it seriously. I’m going to fear not. I’m going to take courage, praise God!”
And the third thing, angels are the voice of possibility:
“Mary, you may feel like an ordinary Jewish girl, but tell you what – you’re going to be the mother of the greatest person that ever lived! What a possibility! All you need to do is say yes.”
“Zechariah, you may think that you and your wife are too old, no possibilities, all hope gone, but I’ve got news for you. I’ve got good news for you from God. There is possibility; there is a hope.”
And it was so! Angels bring words of possibilities. Do you need a possibility in order to break forth from a sad shell today? Listen to your angel voice, because angels are the messengers of God who bring the good news of God’s possibilities for you. Listen for them, as Zechariah did in his church, and you will hear the angel voice bringing you the news of possibility.
So, my dear friends, I invite you to go into the week knowing that you are very loved, and that God loves you so much that He has created spirits to bless you and to bring His messages to you, messages of love and courage and possibility. And it is because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski