A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
December 20, 2015
Luke 1:5-13, 57-66
If pastors were honest about it, Zechariah is probably one of the stories we like the least. He is one of our own, a priest, serving God in the temple in Jerusalem. If you remember back to your readings in Exodus about how the priests function in the temple. One priest would go in and make the offering. Possible encounters with the Divine were not taken lightly, so only trained professional priests did this. “Do not try this at home” might be the sign on the wall.
So, Zechariah walks in to the place where God lives, and the divine messenger walks in the door and speaks to him. But Zechariah doesn’t quite believe him.
Now, if Zechariah had encountered this angel in the produce section of Albertson’s, or while out for a run on the greenbelt, we could sympathize with him a little more. Because we can understand missing the Divine while you are in the midst of your busy life.
But he’s in the temple. This is why pastors are uneasy about this text. We spend a lot of time in God’s house. We listen for God. Except of course, for when the divine speaks to us clearly and we miss it all together.
The angel gives him the usual angel stuff—do not be afraid, yada yada yada. But some very specific instructions too—your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear a son. His name will be John…
Zechariah, even in the midst of the divine presence, can’t put aside human details. Like Sarah and Abraham before him, and like us after, perhaps, Zechariah allows very human details and limitations to question God’s movement in the world. “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years….”
He won’t die in his encounter with the Divine. But he will lose his voice. He won’t say another word until John is born.
Losing your voice for 9 months would give you ample time, I suspect, to think about what you really want to say.
And Zechariah finally gets his voice back when he acknowledges his wife was correct (let it be noted) and verifies that this child is to be called John, as the angel said, even though everyone thought his name should be Zechariah Junior.
And, once he has his voice back, he utters twelve verses of poetry so beautiful I wonder if he had been composing it in silence those nine months.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.
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.”
Zechariah’s voice is back and it bursts forth in praise and hope and promise and thanks.
A force is awakening. The dawn from on high will break upon us.
The Lord we seek will suddenly come to his temple. There’s the good news, friends. God will become flesh and pitch a tent among mortals. That’s the good news for which we’re preparing now. Jesus’ birth, as far as Zechariah saw it, was God suddenly coming to his temple.
Advent is the time of preparation for our celebration of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. Of course, that baby has already been born. But Advent is more than preparing to remember something that happened long, long ago, in a Galilee far, far way. It is preparing to live it again, to be open for God to ‘be born in us’ today, as the hymn says.
A few years ago, when some people were convinced the world was going to end because of some ancient Mayan calendar, someone said, “I’m not afraid the world will end in 2012. I’m afraid it will stay the same”.
Our Advent hope is a reverse phrasing of that statement. Advent is hope the world will change, confidence it will not stay the same.
And while we are not the hope of the world—come back Christmas Eve at 5 or 7 pm to hear more about him—we are the ones to share that hope, and embody that hope. We help people recognize the force that is awakening in their lives, and in the world around them. We seek the way of peace and make sure the path is visible for others, so they may join us.
Our Advent hope is joining our voices in Zechariah’s song.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 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.
May it be so.