Reading: Luke 1: 5-25
Let’s pray, a poem from Wil Gafney
We are waiting
We are waiting in the dark
We are waiting in the holy darkness
We are waiting in the womb of God
Between this Advent and the next
Well here we are again friends, the first Sunday of Advent. We again start our journey through the church calendar and the life of Christ. We allow this journey to shape our year and hopefully our lives. It is a rhythm we enter into each year that brings our story into the story of God.
And we have begun by lighting the candle of peace. And we will over the coming weeks light all these candles of peace, love, joy and hope. For many of us it might not feel like there is much of these things in the world right now so we light them as a prayer, as an expression of our longing for them, as a reminder of God’s longing for them.
And may they encourage us each week to look out for them in our daily lives. Because they are there even amidst the war, the despair, the division and suffering.
As said this year the theme for our Advent and Christmas seasons (that will take us through to January) is a question “How does a weary world rejoice.” This theme comes again from “a sanctified art, who are a team of pastors and theologians who make creative resources for people of faith to guide, and enrich their worship during the seasons of the church.
Each week has a sub theme, a response to the question that is inspired by the scripture reading, that, this year we are taking from Luke chapters 1 and 2. In these readings we find the possibility for rejoicing, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
So what are these responses, these sub themes? How does a weary world rejoice. Well:
- We acknowledge our weariness
- We find joy in connection
- We allow ourselves to be amazed
- We sing stories of hope
- We make room
- We root ourselves in tradition
- We trust our belovedness
Each is a “we” statement because joy is deeply relational and rooted in the fact that we belong to God. As we move through the series, I hope to create space for acknowledging the weariness of our world but also celebrating God’s coming with great joy.
And so as we begin I invite you to take a moment to acknowledge the weariness that you are carrying, to give that to God.
But I also invite you to wonder what it might look like to rejoice despite this. Not ignoring the weariness or pushing it away but allowing weariness and rejoicing to sit alongside each other.
And we begin this Advent season with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In the orderly manner he said he would in verse 1, Luke begins with, “In the days of King Herod of Judea,”
This is Luke’s way of giving us a date. King Herold ruled as king of the Jews from 37–4 BC. He was cruel and ruthless and paranoid. He executed three sons, two wives and a mother-in- law who he suspected were plotting against him. Herod though was just a puppet King for the Roman Empire and the Jewish people at that time longed for freedom and the ability to govern themselves in their own land. They were waiting and praying for a Messiah who they believed was coming to make that happen.
And at that time there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
The priestly order of Abijah originated with King David. While he was not allowed to build the temple, he made a lot of the plans including dividing the Levites, the tribe selected to serve God in the Temple, into smaller divisions so that each family would have an equal opportunity to minister. The order of Abijah was the 8th of these. Elizabeth was a descendent of Aaron, Moses’s brother, who was designated the first high priest.
Zechariah and Elizebeth have also lived many years steadfast in their faith. And yet despite their important ineage and Godliness they have for a long time battled infertility. Here again Scripture declares misfortune is not a sign of a lack of faith or goodness.
Of the four Gospels, only Luke begins with this story. If this plot sounds familiar, it should, for it is very similar to the story of Abraham and Sarah. And their story establishes a pattern throughout the Hebrew Scriptures – Rebekah and Issac, Rachel and Jacob, Hannah and the unnamed mother of Sampson all struggle to have children.
And I want to acknowledge that these stories can awaken old feelings, stir deep pains and deeper yearnings for many of us, who for different reasons, do not have the families we longed for. All I can say is scripture delves often into the depth of this pain. God’s Spirit seems to hover over this place.
From the very beginning of his Gospel, Luke reminds us of an even earlier beginning, the beginning of the story of God’s relationship with God’s people Israel. Luke places his story within this larger story of faith—the story that began when God called Abraham and Sarah to leave their homeland and go to the place that God would show them, when God promised them a child and many descendants.
From the outset, the biblical story is one of God choosing unlikely candidates and unexpected ways to accomplish God’s purposes. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed when they first heard the promise that they would have a son.
Like Abraham and Sarah before him, Zechariah is skeptical when he hears the promise of good news. Sometimes weariness and disappointment can harden us. We discussed this text at the Bible Study, some of us who have been here in Alice for a longer time noted ourselves becoming somewhat hardened, somewhat cynical, about the possibilities for positive change in our town.
Zechariah is cast into silence for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Perhaps Zechariah is been punished for his lack of faith. Perhaps.
But perhaps there is another reason.
At the Bible study Shanon commented to Nina that priests do have a tendency to talk a lot. Personally, I do not know any of those priests but perhaps Zechariah had this tendency and perhaps his voice needed to be silenced to hear the voice of Elizaebeth.
Or perhaps this is the gift that Zechariah needs. Perhaps what he really needed to comes to terms with all this, to prepare for the birth of his extraordinary son was silence. There is no doubt that the words that emerge when he does speak again are inspired.
And so we have the Jewish people waiting for a Messiah and Zechariah and Elizabeth waiting for a child.
Zechariah recognizes that in the birth of his son John, God has looked with favor not only upon him and Elizabeth, but upon the whole people of Israel, to fulfill the promises made long ago to their ancestors. God is raising up a savior for his people and Zechariah’s son John will go before this savior to prepare his ways.
The entire story of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, beginning with the promise to Abraham and Sarah, is coming to fulfillment in this story Luke tells—this story that begins, once again, with a promise and a birth against all odds. Fulfillment has been a long time coming. Israel has been through wars, captivity, exile, and domination by foreign rulers, and in Luke’s time has been crushed by the Romans.
But remembering how God has proven faithful in the past—even when all hope seemed lost—builds confidence that God can be trusted in the present and the future. The name Zechariah in fact mean, “the God wo remembers.” Even while Herod and Caesar rule with an iron fist, God’s reign of justice and mercy is breaking into this world in the unlikely births of two infants in obscure Judean villages—John the Baptist, and then, of course, Jesus.
Like the Hebrew people, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we have all had hard journeys. Grief has left a scar on us. Let us acknowledge this. And let us also acknowledge the ways we, too have become hardened by disbelief.
But also let us acknowledge and remember how God has proven faithful to us in the past and rejoice in that.
I believe, this is how we show up to Advent.
And we sing. We sing this beautiful song about God bringing new life in the baren places. God bringing peace in lands that have been bombed and torn. May we rejoice in this new life.