In anticipation of Christmas, this past Sunday our pastor preached from Luke 1. It’s the chapter where an angel appears to Zechariah the priest and prophesies the birth of John The Baptist.
“And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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 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 1:11-13 & 16-17
I must have read this chapter a hundred or more times since childhood. I can almost quote it from memory, yet somehow the depth of its treasure had eluded me. It struck me during the service that one of the signs, one of the blessings of John The Baptist, is that he comes “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.”
What a precious gem this knowledge is to me as the daughter of an abusive father. How profound it is to know that a sign of God’s handiwork – a sign of the nearness of Christ – is that fathers will love their babies. Some may think it odd that as a child abuse survivor I would take comfort in this. But you see, having the very words of an angel of God confirm that what my dad did was wrong, and not of God, is a tremendous consolation. The offense is not all in my head. The wrongness is not my imagination. God himself sent prophets into the world to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, because that’s how a father’s heart should be.
I may not have seen this sign of John the Baptist in my own father, but I see it shining brightly in the father of my children, and in so many other fathers in our church and social circles. It is a simple sign, in the same way that a sunset is simple. It is a natural sign, in the same way that a ruby is natural. Simple yet exquisitely beautiful. Natural yet uncommon and priceless. As tragic as it is that more fathers do not love their children as they should, it is vindicating to know that their sin is in direct opposition to God.
In order to “make ready for the Lord a people,” John was sent to build strong families. In order to prepare the people of God for the coming of Christ, he nurtured loving daddies. This promise harkens back to Malachi 4 in which the prophet foretells the Second Coming of Christ, the Final Judgment:
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them … Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi 4:1 & 5-6
Thus, while the Old Testament foretells signs of the Second Coming, the New Testament foretells signs of the First Coming. It’s a supernatural Easter egg hidden in plain sight; a clue as to how God’s mind works, existing outside of space and time.
Our God is passionate about families. Whether we’re talking about the Old Testament or the New, from Adam and Eve, to Mary and Joseph, to Jesus and His Bride the Church, God’s Word is overflowing with the ideals of fatherly love, sacrificial husbands, maternal dedication, and the incomparable beauty of a faithful wife.
Whether God was working through the physical John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus’ earthly ministry, or in the spirit of John the Baptist and Elijah to make ready His people for Jesus’ final judgment, God is working to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.
But this blessing of John the Baptist, this sanctification and transformation of fallen fathers into the likeness of our Holy Father, is no rare concept in Scripture. From the very beginning, we were intended to resemble and reflect God’s image.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Though we are now fallen and sinful, by the work and empowerment of the Spirit you are, “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24
A sign of the work of the Spirit in anyone’s life is that they will mirror the love of God. It should be no surprise then, that one of the ways John prepared God’s people for the coming of Christ, was to draw the fathers to mirror The Father. Just so, we as the body of Christ should be building up families, fortifying healthy marriages, and nurturing Godly parents.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-3
Just as the Jews of the Old Testament and the era of Zechariah searched for a sign of the coming Messiah, so today, we as modern Christians search for signs of the return of our Lord. Perhaps though, we should cease fretting over “wars and rumors of wars,” and the political status of Israel and even Christianity. Perhaps instead we should cherish the miracle of daddies who love their kids. Whatever your eschatological view, in order to prepare the way for the coming of Christ Jesus, the Spirit of God will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.
This Christmas, as we remember a Savior who came as a baby, may we allow our hearts to be turned to Him. His Father is our Father. His righteousness is attributed to us. He will return again to redeem a people made ready, and for the Lord prepared. That is a profound promise.