The Song of Zechariah – Dec. 9, 2018

The Song of Zechariah

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 1:67-79

Dec 9, 2018

Main Idea – God leads us on the path of peace.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Once upon a time there lived an old minister. He and his wife had no children.  One day as he was working, an angel of the LORD appeared to him and said “Do not be afraid.  Your wife will bear you a son.  You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  Even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  With the spirit and power of Elijah he will 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.”  The old minister replied, “How will I know this to be true?  For I am an old man and my wife is old too.”  The angel, unaccustomed to such skepticism, stood up very tall and said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and God sent me to give you this good news.  But, because you asked for a sign, here it is.  You shall be unable to speak until the day that these things foretold have occurred.  You will have plenty of time to contemplate what has been given to you.”  And with that, the angel left and the old minister could only stand and watch, silently.

For months the old minister was silent, unable to do his job.  He stayed at home with his wife, who did become pregnant.  Together they waited for the birth of their child.  When that day came, the whole community celebrated but the minister remained unable to speak.  On the eighth day, they gathered for a naming ceremony and when the old minister wrote out his son’s name, suddenly his voice was freed and he burst into song, praising God.  The song he sang is our Scripture reading for this morning.

The old minister’s name was Zechariah which means “God remembered” (Robin Gallaher Branch, FOTW, Year C Vol. 1 p. 35) and his song is a song of both remembrance and joy, and of prophecy and yearning.    It is a perfect song for Advent as we look for glimpses of God’s peace in the world.   God remembers us and leads us on the path of peace.

The first half of Zechariah’s song is about the mighty acts of God.  God has “looked favorably on the people” (1:68),  God has “redeemed them”(1:68b), God has raised up a mighty savior”(1:69), God has spoken through the prophets (1:70), God has saved the people from enemies (1:71), God has shown mercy (1:72), God remembers (1:72) and God rescues (1:72) so that the people can serve God without fear.  Zechariah sings that the promises of God, made to God’s people through the ages, are fulfilled and the people can rejoice in this great gift of justice and peace.

The second half of the song is sung to Zechariah’s child, John.  Imagine him holding his baby boy, singing this song of hope and promise.  “You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to share with the people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (1:76-77)  This is quite a job for a baby!  But Zechariah sings with the confidence that God is already with his child.  Remember that Gabriel had said before his birth that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The final stanza of the song is among the most beautiful in all of Scripture.  “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.” (1:78-79). In the song, the dawn has not yet arrived but is coming soon.  It will break upon us, like a cool wave of water on a hot day, or a rush of warmth upon entering a home on a cold day, bringing relief and joy.  No longer must the people wait for God for rescue.  Now God waits for us to turn our hearts and minds to the future God has planned.

This song of Zechariah, speaks to us in this Advent season, as we ponder the mystery of the Incarnation.  It is a song of God’s action, God’s love made manifest in a new way.  We know what it is to sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.  We all live this during the winter season; with only 9 hours of daylight, we wake up in the dark and come home from work or school in the dark.   And we all have had times in our lives when the darkness holds sway; times of grief, times of worry, times of uncertainty and fear.   We pray for the light and for the guidance, and God gives it to us, each morning with the sun, and each time we acknowledge the presence of God. Sometimes it is just a hint of the dawn, but it points to the light that is coming.

And while this is a song of praise for God’s actions, it also points to how we can respond.  It says that God has rescued us from our enemies, has saved us, so that we might serve God without fear.  Our salvation is not just for our benefit.  It empowers us to work for God and with others, guiding our feet in the way of peace.

So what is this way or path of peace?  What is the future God is proclaiming through Zechariah and his son John?  We know that John was a precursor of Jesus.  In Luke’s Christmas story, John is Jesus’ cousin, born just a few months before Jesus.  “By the time Luke’s Gospel [is written] the Romans have destroyed the Jerusalem Temple, and news about Jesus has begun to spread beyond Palestine to pockets around the Roman Empire.  In that context, no less than … when Elizabeth [John’s mother] and Mary were preparing to give birth to their sons, the message of God’s peace comes to a world more practiced at the art of warfare that it is at the craft of reconciliation (cf. Luke 19:42).  God’s peace stands in striking contrast to the peace of the Roman Caesars, during whose reign John and Jesus [were] both born and executed.” (Audrey West,  Our time is also more practiced at the art of war than at the craft of peace.  But still we can sing with Zechariah that God remembers and leads us to a more peaceful future.

Zechariah’s song describes a future where all can worship and serve God without fear.  This is one description of the Kingdom of God.  This future is one in which his baby boy will have a job to do; to proclaim the Good News and help the people prepare for the coming of God.  This job is not John’s alone.  It is our job as well.  God remembers us and leads us in the path of peace.

This Advent season our world is bitterly divided along political, ethnic, racial, national, and religious lines.  We are exhausted by the endless vitriol which fills the media from all sides. On almost any topic you can find two people to yell at each other. This past week we had a small reprieve in the US as we joined together to honor the life of President George HW Bush.  But it is a sad state of affairs when it takes a funeral to bring us together!   Into this sad, angry, confused, and overwhelming world, we are called to join Zechariah in proclaiming that God remembers us and leads us in the way of peace.  God does not leave us alone.  God loves the world so much that God chooses to enter in and join us in our humanity.  This is the wonder we celebrate this season.  But this gift is not ours alone.  This gift comes with the responsibility to share; to work for peace and justice so that the Kingdom of God is made real on the earth.

In this Advent season let us focus on sharing God’s peace.  This means slowing down our frantic Christmas preparations and shifting from buying to sharing.  It means paying attention to the vulnerable among us, such as the homeless, refugees, people of color, Muslims, or LGBT folks, and choosing to help and advocate on their behalf.  Sharing God’s peace means stepping back from conversations which demonize others.  Sharing God’s peace means seeing Christ in each person, even those with whom we disagree.  Sharing God’s peace means working to bring peace and justice to our homes, our communities and our world.

The dawn is coming and will soon break upon us, giving light to us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.  The tender mercies of our God guide our feet into the way of peace.

Let us pray,

Blessed Lord, we thank you for the gift of Jesus, for whom we wait.  Be with us in our waiting.  Empower us to prepare the way, proclaiming your vision of peace for all the world.  Amen.