SERMON Advent 2 C Luke 1: 68-79, 3: 1-6
Zechariah had been silent for 10 long months. At last, his wife Elizabeth gave birth to their long hoped for child. A son! Zechariah was filled with joy, but still unable to speak. Seven days and very long nights passed by, that first week that is always a bleary eyed blur, with their newborn filling their home with screams and sighs and snuggles. On the morning of the eighth day, Zechariah was still silent. The whole community gathered around them to witness the baby’s briss, the ceremony where he would receive his name and his ritual identity as a child of Israel. Since Zechariah was still silent, the religious elders decided on the family’s behalf that this long awaited boy child would be named after his father, as was the custom. But, Elizabeth knew that what was customary was not God’s will.
The angel told Zechariah that their baby’s name would be John, and that he would be great in the sight of the Lord, and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit (even before he was born)!
Elizabeth defied the elders and said, “No! He is to be called John.” But the elders didn’t listen. They motioned to Zechariah to find out what name he wanted to give him –assuming, of course, that Zechariah would take their side and give him the name that was customary.
On a stone tablet, Zechariah wrote, “His name is John.” And the whole community was amazed! And with that act of faithfulness to the message he received from God, Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue unbound. And the very first thing he spoke after 10 long months was the soaring psalm of praise to God, which we read responsively this morning.
The community was astonished! Not only had Elizabeth given birth in her old age, and traditional Zechariah named his son a totally unexpected name, but now Zechariah who had been unable to speak finally sang God’s praises after 10 long months of silence! And what amazing good news he sang!
Our scripture says, “Then Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has looked favorably upon 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, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our ancestor Abraham… that we might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
Zechariah’s soaring praise to God was first and foremost not for the birth of his long- awaited son, but rather pointed to the coming birth of the long-awaited Savior of Israel. Zechariah’s most amazing news was that the Redeemer we’ve been awaiting for thousands of years is finally on the way! Through the present reality of Mary’s pregnancy, God has already set this ball in motion. They don’t have to wait for the savior to be born to celebrate the good news of salvation! God’s people are already redeemed through the grace and love of God almighty, and through God’s faithfulness to the covenant he made with their ancestors. The first part of Zechariah’s song tells the truth that God keeps God’s ancient promises!
Zechariah then continued his song with a prophecy for his son, John, singing,
“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. In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadows of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
All who hear his song ponder, “What then will this child become?”
Zechariah, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, knew exactly what his child, John would become. As we see in the gospel today, John would grow up to be the prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord –the one who would be filled with the spirit of Elijah and who would call God’s people to repentance for the ways they’d fallen short of loving God, and who would mark their newly transformed life with baptism.
Out in the wilderness, in the midst of whatever personal darkness his listeners found themselves in, John shone the light of God’s truth and justice, just as Zechariah prophesied.
“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadows of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And this call of John the Baptist to give light to those who sit in darkness, and to prepare the way of the Lord, this is truly the vocation of each and every one of us who follow Jesus today.
Even without the angelic miracles, even without our father’s being struck speechless, when each one of us were little, the grown ups who loved us pondered the same question that John’s neighbors pondered about him, “What then will this child become?”
My father always told me, “Laura, I always hoped you’d grow up to be something that made a difference, like a doctor…. As for your brothers, I just hope they stay out of prison!”
Each one of us have dreams and visions for the children we love. I believe that my daughter –who is passionate about justice and extremely strong willed- will be an amazing human rights attorney someday. I believe that my deep-thinking son will make an incredible scientific breakthrough in his lifetime. Each one of us have dreams and visions for the children we love, and each one of us were those children at one point or another.
Just as Zechariah cradled his infant son and spoke those dreams and visions aloud through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so God lovingly cradles each and every one of us and whispers those same heavenly hopes and dreams for each one of our lives. God knows our gifts and experiences that will be used to make this world a better place. God has big hopes and dreams to use each and every one of us to bear God’s light and love into the places of darkness and pain within our world. God will accomplish that in different ways for each of us. But, as Christians we share the same mission from God. We prepare the way of the Lord through our love.
Only love has the power to give others a glimpse of salvation. Only love has the power to genuinely proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Only love has the power to bind up the brokenhearted. Only love has the power to set the captives free. The love of God is poured out through each one of us, and God’s love IS the dawn from on high that breaks upon us each and every day. Our sacred mission as God’s people is to prepare the way of the Lord by pointing out God’s light and love wherever we see it, and by being God’s light and love for others. In places of darkness and despair, God’s vision for us as the Church is to be the dawn who lifts up the Son for all to receive warmth and light and hope for this new day. Amen.