But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Our God is a God of renewal. That is why we can have joy no matter our circumstances.
In the beginning, he created the world, fashioning the clear, blue skies; the emerald green grass of the world’s myriad hills and valleys; the majestic mountain peaks; the rhythm of the ocean’s waves; the vast, astounding array of animal and plant life. He called his creation “good.” Then, he topped all that by creating man and woman in his own image, as a sort of representation of himself on earth. All of God’s creation was indeed “good.”
But Adam and Eve, the man and woman God had created, chose not to obey him. Because of that, humans’ relationship with God was fractured, God pronounced curses, and Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden.
Humanity and creation had been marred by sin. But God chose a man through whom he would bring renewal to earth. This man was Abraham, and God told him that through him all families of the earth would be blessed.
Through Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel came into being. This nation’s purpose was to bless other nations and thereby bring renewal to earth. But time after time they didn’t obey God, and because of this they eventually went into exile in Babylon. Even after they returned home from exile, they still had trouble obeying God. They still had trouble being an agent of renewal. Indeed, this nation that was supposed to be bringing renewal went through a period of being under the thumb of a few different empires. They still felt like they were in exile.
But our God is a God of renewal, and that’s why we can have joy no matter our circumstances. This is where our passage comes in. Enter Zechariah, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth. Luke’s gospel tells us they were “advanced in years” (Luke 1:7), and they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. They probably felt like they were in exile, especially being in a culture that looked down on women who couldn’t have children. And to this couple, a couple that had suffered and struggled for who knows how long, an angel appears and says you will experience renewal by having a child.
But not only that, this child will prepare the way for Jesus—the man, God in flesh, who will inaugurate and one day bring about the greatest renewal the universe will ever see. He will show people and teach people the righteous way to live; he will demonstrate God’s kingdom by healing the sick and the disabled; he will die on a cross as the sacrifice and atonement for people’s sins; he will resurrect from the dead after three days, thereby paving the way for all who trust in him to one day resurrect from the dead and join God in the new heavens and new earth with renewed bodies.
You many feel like you’re in exile today. But our God is a God of renewal, and that’s why we can have joy no matter our circumstances. It doesn’t matter if your struggles are financial, health-related, family-related, personal sin related, career-related, or concern for our country related. God gives us his word, his spirit, his people, and his wisdom among other things to make things better, to experience renewal, right here and right now. I pray you will experience that renewal.
But God will perform an even bigger act of renewal. He had a plan for renewal back when the angel appeared to Zechariah, and that plan was a baby named Jesus. He has an ultimate plan for renewal right now, and that plan is Jesus returning to earth to make all things new. So, no matter your circumstances at any time, you can have joy—because if you trust in Jesus, if you give your full self, your full allegiance to him, you will be a part of the greatest renewal the universe will ever see. Whether he comes back before you die or he raises you from the dead, God will take you to dwell with him forever in his kingdom, in the new heaven and new earth. Our God is a God of renewal, and that is why we can have joy no matter our circumstances.