Sunday, December 23, 2012
Luke 1: 57-80, NT pages 57-58 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for the he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. The Lord has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as the Lord spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus the Lord has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us, that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before the Lord all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. Sermon Many times in my life, words have failed me. There are occasions when I should have said something, but couldn't seem to say anything, other times when I said something but should have said nothing, and then there have been innumerable occasions when I said exactly the wrong thing. It is a momentous occasion, to be handed a newborn baby. I remember exactly what I said when the nurse picked up our first child Lily, handed her to her mother, and then turned to walk out of the room. “You’re leaving,” I said. “What are we supposed to do?” This occasion deserved, certainly something more confident, more celebratory, more articulate. In fact, I think even saying nothing at all would have been better than, “What are we supposed to do” to a nurse after she hands you your new baby. I not only remember what I said in this moment. I remember how she looked at me too. Maybe she was expecting something different, but we can’t all be Zechariah. Zechariah is a new father in our second scripture lesson for this morning, and while words failed me they did not fail him, as to celebrate the birth of his new born son he bursts into beautiful prophecy: “Blessed by the Lord God of Israel – for the Lord has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them…And you child will be called the prophet of the Most High; and he will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” It’s a beautiful song is what it is – even more beautiful when compared to my, “What are we supposed to do?” But Zechariah is different and he knows exactly what to do and how to say it, so he is able to declare what God will do through his son. The entire time Elizabeth was pregnant he was unable to speak, punished by the Angel Gabriel for his lack of faith, so he did have a good bit of time to think this song up, but even still, compare this optimistic statement of faith to my “what are we supposed to do,” and you have the difference between night and day. And then, at the time of John the Baptist’s birth, the preacher who would prepare the way for Jesus Christ, it was night all around. The Roman Empire ruled the people through force. There was violence in the street, armed soldiers standing on the corner – not to defend Zechariah and his people but to keep them in their place with the shield, the spear, and the sword. Life was valued; so much as that life benefited the Empire. People were free to do what they wanted, so long as they only wanted to do what the empire allowed. And the future – was sure to be worse than the past because no one could imagine a day when Jerusalem would not be covered by the shroud of Roman rule. You bring a newborn son into that kind of environment and you are wise not to hope for too much. Maybe just that the Roman taxes won’t get so high that he’ll have to miss too many meals. Maybe that he’ll stay away from the young men who terrorize the Roman legions, burning their bridges and vandalizing their property. Maybe he’ll be able to go to school without having to fear for his life. I read in the paper last Thursday that the sale of a bullet resistant shield that can be inserted into a child’s backpack, has spiked in recent days. This shield turns what holds my daughter’s little pink lunch box and her folder that holds her art work into something that she can kneel behind should the unthinkable ever happen. Now that is not what I want to be shopping for this Christmas. I do not want my children to have to live in a world where such a product even exists. In times such as these words may fail us all, so we lean instead on a man who had time to think about what a faithful person who knew firsthand the might power of God should say: “And you child, will go before the Lord to prepare his ways… By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This Christmas all is not right with the world. Some presents will go unopened because the child who was to open them is gone. We sing of peace on earth while fathers and mothers are away fighting other fathers and mothers in faraway lands. And we are all tempted to expect a little bit less of the future, we worry for our children, and we wonder, “What am I supposed to do now?” We imagine that Christmas shouldn't be this way, but it always has been. It is not the time when all is right with the world. Christmas is instead the time to celebrate that it will be, for “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” He is coming. The Prince of Peace is coming, and he declares: “Let the little children come unto me.” Amen.