by Scott Hoezee
Key Scripture: Luke 1:57-80
St. Luke shows us that even righteous people can learn more about God's grace through hard times and still be instruments, testimonies of His faithfulness. In this section of the gospel of Luke God's plan is fulfilled, John is born of a barren older woman and a man who is righteous and who doubts loses his ability to speak and learned from his mistake. God's faithfulness is that John is born and born to be the forerunner to the messiah and another demonstration of God's grace and faithfulness.
Dr. Bock in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke points out some key parts of this story.
1 ."When God acts we should listen. Zechariah could not believe so God gave him time to reflect. Can I ask you a question; how many times have you struggled with something, some challenge, obstacle and not realized that maybe it was a time to reflect on God's faithfulness or plan and or grace?
2. At the end of the reflection Zechariah is reminded that God does what he says! Remember we where told earlier, vs. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth are upright in the sight of God and observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.
3. It also shows from the Zechariah has learned from his mistake, through the pain of discipline, he Zechariah emerges a stronger man of God. Dr. Bock points out that “those who are arrogant, thinking they know it all, have no need for God or for instruction – Zechariah is not an arrogant man."
Preparing for The Visit of the Incarnate God
Zechariah is singing about a divine visit of momentous proportion--a visit his son, John, will prepare the world to receive in the right way. The Greek word he uses is loaded with grace. This same word was used at other times to describe the way someone might visit a lonely person or a widow in distress. This is a healing kind of visit, in other words. This is a type of visit motivated by an awareness that someone is hurting, and so you want to see if you can help.
God is visiting this world with a deep-seated desire to help. But are we ready to receive this visit in the right way? Because no matter how well-motivated a given visit may be, the person receiving it needs to be in the right frame of mind. Eight-and-a-half years ago when I first came to Calvin Church, I spent my first month here visiting as many of our elderly members as I could. Mostly I was warmly received. But I remember the reaction of one lady, who died many years ago now. When I knocked on her door at Raybrook, she quickly opened it but then suspiciously said, "Yes?" "Hi," I said, "I'm Rev. Scott Hoezee, the new pastor at Calvin Church, and I just wanted to drop in to say 'Hello.'" "Well," she snapped, "now you've said it and goodbye to you," and she slammed the door in my face! (You should know that weeks later, after Rev. Kiekover chided her for this, she did apologize to me, though she assured me "I had my reasons!")
...Yet over the centuries even the church has allowed the message of Advent to become mostly about joy at the expense of any talk of judgment. In Zechariah's song there is a lot of talk about salvation but there is also some talk about punishment for God's enemies. We may sing "Joy the world, the Lord is come," but we need to face up to the fact that there are any number of people in this world who actually find no joy at all in the Christian message. They hate it. And they don't want this Jesus to be called their "Lord" in any sense.
That's why all four gospels talk about John the Baptist and his fiery message of repentance. Two of the four gospels do not mention Jesus' birth at all. But Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recognized that no gospel would be complete without John the Baptist. A gospel may skip Christmas but it may not skip John. Why? Because as Zechariah knew already when John was just eight days old, John was going to be the necessary advance man to get the world ready to receive Jesus.
If Jesus was the one who would plant the mustard seed of the kingdom into the soil of this world, then John was to be the one who did the hard work of plowing the soil to get ready for that planting. John would be the one who would sink down his plow blade into human hearts that were the spiritual equivalent of a parched field whose dirt had long ago hardened into something resembling concrete. If Jesus was God's divine Visitor to this world, then John was the one who was sent to prepare the way.
Because God knew and John the Baptist knew that how the forthcoming visit of God's Son would be received would very much depend on people's situation. If they were eager to hear the good news that God's tender mercies were available to forgive their sins, then they'd be glad to hear just that message from the lips of Jesus. But if people didn't think they had a problem with sin, then the visit of God's Son would be merely annoying and a waste of their time.
...Yet John the Baptist exists as the gospel's necessary Advent pre-cursor precisely to confront us, to bring us into conflict with our own selves, to clench our teeth a bit so that we just maybe can repent, can change our lives and center ourselves on the holiness of God that invaded the world when Jesus visited this planet.
Commentators note that beautiful as Zechariah's song is, in a way it provides a kind of pause--almost an interruption--in the narrative flow of Luke. After all, just look what comes next in chapter 2: the most famous version of the Christmas story! This is what we are all so eager to get to this month--indeed, the Christmas season keeps getting longer as retailers and even we ourselves begin decking things out for Christmas well before Thanksgiving even arrives. We can't wait to jump into Luke 2 to see again that manger, that baby, those shepherds, and the angels dancing in the night sky.
But Luke forces us to pause. Just before Zechariah's song, everyone was asking a question we too seldom ask in Advent: What's going on here? What does this all really mean? Zechariah's song is, in part, an answer to that question as Zechariah weaves together a rich tapestry of biblical images, including God's covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the stories of King David as well as rich imagery like the rising sun from heaven and the path of peace. The story told in Luke 2 is beautiful, vital, and worthy of our celebration. But we won't be ready for the visit of that Christ Child until we take a cue from Luke and so pause, take time for a few deep and reflective breaths, and so ponder the message John the Baptist must bring to us first.
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday of the Birth of John the Baptist
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