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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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.”
- Luke 1:13 – 17
Part of the Christmas story is a story of turning. You see, God’s people had a hard time following him. There certainly were moments when they followed faithfully, but most of the time they were too busy doing what they wanted to do, which didn’t go particularly well for any of them.
As matter of fact, over the course of several hundred years God’s people walked so far away from God that they found they could no longer hear his voice. And yet God loved his people so he kept speaking to them.
So God sent them miraculous prophets like Elijah, and rebuking prophets like Hosea, and sad prophets like Jeremiah, and good news prophets like Isaiah. But God’s people were too busy disobeying to hear his voice.
And so one day it happened: God stopped speaking to his people. No more promises. No more warnings. No more instruction or guidance. God had given his people every opportunity to turn toward him, but still they ran away. So for four hundred years God was silent. Not because he was angry but because he was preparing them for the light that would turn their hearts back.
The birth of John the Baptist is the inception of God speaking again to his people. And the amazing thing about John’s ministry is its impact. Gabriel says John will be used by God to turn many people to the Lord. Fathers will turn to their children. The disobedient will turn to what is just. In other words, people will start to live as God created them to live.
Why is this turning so important? It made ready for the Lord a people prepared to receive Jesus.
We live many years after John’s ministry, but it is important that we prepare our own hearts to receive Jesus. After all, turning away is something that we do too.
So today, take a few moments of silence to remember the four hundred years that God stopped speaking to his people. Then take a few moments to consider your own life. Where are you turning away from God? What habits and practices keep him an arm’s length away? What attitudes and actions is he calling you to turn from so that you are prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus?