by James Love, M. Div, Vernon BC
We, the church, often don't know what to do with John the Baptist. Indeed, we in the church, as at the time of today's text, often just keep doing things as we've always done them. It worked for my parents, and grandparents, and so on, this is just the way of things. And then God sends a messenger.
I think about Zachariah in a special way, since I am a Zachariah. Janice is an Elizabeth, barren of children, for some 15 years since we first began trying for children. Zachariah is chosen for the special duty of lighting the incense, and it is there that he again offers his prayer, "send a child for Elizabeth." His prayer is asked one more time, upon many other one more times.
And WHAM! An angel appears, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you"
He then says something very understandable to those who've drank deeply at the well of disappointment, , "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
How strange and wonderful that even in striking Zachariah speechless, Gabriel affirms the power of God. It's time for you to just shut up Zachariah and see what God will do. The time for prayers is over, the time for waiting for the fulfillment of God's promise is begun. Wait upon the Lord; just a little longer … there is no need to cry out to the Lord, you've been heard.
I read an article once about infertility that was called "Endless Advent". Endless waiting for God to act. This experience of endless waiting is not limited to infertility, since many await on tests, await on others to make a decision or grow up or quit drinking or getting a job … waiting in the emptiness.
Have you noticed how often this theme of infertility appears in the Bible. Sarah who bore Isaac, Rebekah who bore Jacob, Rachel who bore Joseph, and Manoah's wife who bore Samson. And Elizabeth who bears John.
It appears that throughout the bible, when fertility, be it of mothers, of the land, of the word of hope from the prophets seems at last dried up, empty, barren, the river run dry, it is then that God speaks. And then, at the end of prayers, or even after prayers have long been given up, God speaks, babies burst forth, the lands are replenished, rivers overflow and crash down in mighty streams.
And we ask, is this possible, and the angel says, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news." For fear of being silenced, I am cautious is commenting, "Easy for you Gab, your in the presence of God, and you've been sent …" Hey, we here in the church aren't so close to the throne of God, and this confidence you've got isn't so easy for us. We're just a bunch of Zachariah's here.
Yes, Shiloh-Sixth United church is growing; there is a new mission, a new vision statement, a new commitment, a new hope for a vibrant United Church in New Westminster. And yet, the great WHAM! The angel has yet to appear and strike us with fear; turn our world upside down, strike us speechless. Did you hear what happened to Zachariah? He just wanted a son, 10 fingers, 10 toes, and look out! God has other plans! The Angel says, "He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah". You remember Elijah, the greatest prophet of the old testament; Zachariah, son would be full of the Spirit of God, courageous, unyielding in confidence in the steadfast love of God. A delight to his father, the angel says, many will rejoice in his birth and he turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
And so, when the child was born, they all expected the same old cultural traditions, the son would be named after an ancestor, but "No", he will be called "John". He will have a new name, John, "God is gracious". As John the Baptizer he will prepare people for the Lord. He will be present, when Jesus, the Christ, stood amongst the waters, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon him, and a voice from heaven was heard, "This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him."
That small font standing there is no small thing. It is entry into a community of John the Baptizers, who have heard that God can act, that God will act, that the Lord is coming. It becomes a community that prepares and is preparing people to for the Lord. People to be met by Christ, caught up by Christ, and set on the mission of Christ.
As I leave, I wish I could tell you what YOUR new name will be; No, Shiloh-Sixth is just your preparing name!No, God has something great in mind for you than just bringing together 3 United Churches; I think some of you sense this. My prayer for you is to get ready, get prepared, that God may guide you on the path of peace. How can we be sure of these things? How can we be sure? … Shhhhh …. Someone greater than Gabriel stands among us. Shhhh … be silent, and listen.
Copyright 2007, Jim Love, Vernon BC, http://www.jameslove.com Used with Permission
Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the Annunciation to Zachariah Sunday
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