A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Dec 22 2019
selected verses from Luke 1
If pastors were honest about it, Zechariah is one of the stories that makes us really nervous. 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.
Zechariah walks in to the place where God lives, and the divine messenger walks in the door and speaks to him. And 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. 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 poet Mary Oliver wrote: only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one.
Maybe the story of Zechariah is a reminder to have angels and miracles in our heads, so we’ll recognize them when the speak in our lives.
Gabriel tells Zechariah this about his son who will be born: He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
I love the image of a world where the hearts of parents are turned to their children. Sometimes we hear that children should turn toward their parents. Young kids naturally turn toward their parents to find safety and meaning. What if we built a world where, instead, all of our hearts were turned toward the children?
Where our hearts turned to children so they wouldn’t have to go hungry.
Where our hearts turned to children so they wouldn’t be separated from their parents at the border.
Where our hearts turned to children to keep them safe from gun violence and domestic violence.
John was called to prepare us for Jesus, to turn our hearts toward children, including toward the child Jesus. Jesus, whose parents would have to flee to Egypt to keep him safe from an authoritarian ruler of an empire that made everyone refugees, unsafe in their home lands.
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.
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.
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.
A force awakens with our hope.
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. Amen