|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 26, 2014||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 19, 2014||Second Sunday after the Epiphany||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 12, 2014||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17|
|The Epiphany, Year A||January 6, 2014||Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 2:1-12|
|Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A||January 5, 2014||Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A||Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23|
|Christmas Eve||December 24, 2013||Christmas Eve, 2013||Luke 2:1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 15, 2013||Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year||December 1, 2013||Advent 1, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C||November 24, 2013||Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C||Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 17, 2013||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-10|
|Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||November 10, 2013||Proper 27, Year C||Job 19:23-27a, Luke 20:27-38|
|Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 20, 2013||Proper 24C||Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8|
|Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 13, 2013||Proper 23, Year C||2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, Luke 17:11-19|
|Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||October 6, 2013||Proper 22, Year C||Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10|
|Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C||September 29, 2013||Proper 21, Year C||Luke 16:19-31|
Second Sunday in Advent, Year C
Sermon Date:December 9, 2012
Scripture: Canticle 16, Song of Zechariah
Liturgy Calendar: Second Sunday of Advent, Year C
Last Sunday we talked about the fact that the season of Advent is a reminder that we are “in-between” people, because we live in between the time when Jesus came to live as one of us upon this earth, and the time in which Jesus Christ will return to make God’s reign a final reality throughout the universe.
In today’s scripture lessons, we meet Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and Zechariah dramatically experienced what it means to live as an “in-between” person in his own life.
Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist. He and his wife Elizabeth are old and they never had any children. Zechariah is one of 20,000 priests who serve in the temple.
Paul-Gordon Chandler, who wrote the book Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on Christ’s Birth, tells us that “the ultimate responsibility and honor for a priest serving in the temple was to be selected to go into the most holy place, and to refresh the supply of incense on the altar, in order to keep it burning, before the morning and evening sacrifice. As the smoke of the incense rose from the altar, the people outside in the courtyard joined in silent prayer. The smoke drifting upward symbolized their prayers ascending to God for the coming of the Messiah. And a priest could be assigned this duty only once in a lifetime.”
Zechariah’s turn comes, and he wakes up on the morning of the most important day of his life and dresses in white, covers his head, and before he enters the Holy of Holies, he takes off his sandals, because he will be entering into the most sacred space in the temple.
Carrying the incense, he enters alone into this silent space, lit only by the light of candles held in golden candlesticks, and the curtain closes behind him.
And there, while he is filling the incense and praying, the angel Gabriel appears to him.
And the angel Gabriel has this message. “You will have a son, and that son will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah questions the angel, and with reason. He reminds the angel that he and his wife have gotten old—too old to have children.
And Gabriel says, “I came to bring you this good news but since you don’t believe me, you will become mute, unable to speak until the day these things occur.”
Now Zechariah is living in his own “in-between” time. He has no voice at all and all he can do is to wait, full of uncertainty, hoping that he really will get his voice back someday.
We have a lot in common with Zechariah. Every year at Christmas, we hear the good news of the angel Gabriel—“For behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.”
But we, like Zechariah, also question the angel’s words. “What has changed? Two thousand years have passed, and the world is still full of meanness and tragedy and suffering.
Those who question God’s purposes have a point—how long must we wait for God’s reign to come on earth? We’ve lost our awareness that God is speaking to us and working in each one of our lives.
And so we ask ourselves, “Is this story really true?” and in asking that question, we lose our voices.
So The Song of Zechariah, the words that burst out of Zechariah when he got his voice back, hold deep significance for us.
Look at the way this prayer starts.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. “Praise be to God.”
When I was in Staten Island this past week, my sister Lynnette and I were talking about her confirmation class. She has the children in the class keeping a praise journal. In the journal, my niece Helen had made a list of things that she was thankful for—things like sunshine, getting safely back and forth to school, having friends who are in good moods instead of bad ones—
Lynnette said that if she could just get the children in the class to realize the importance of thankfulness, praise, and gratitude, then she would consider her class a success.
“Blessed be the Lord. Praise be to God”—at the very beginning, Zechariah’s prayer reminds us to be thankful.
That’s where the awareness of God speaking to each one of us and working in our lives begins—with praise and thanksgiving. Keeping track of our blessings reveals God’s mighty work in each of our lives, even when we enter into the most awful situations and tragedies that are sure to come our way as human beings.
Now look down at the fourth line of the Canticle in your bulletin.
“God has promised to show mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant.”
Zechariah claims that God is merciful and full of tender compassion. The fact that Zechariah claims that God is merciful and compassionate is of huge importance to us in our own time and culture.
Have you ever heard people say that something tragic has happened in their lives because God is punishing them for their sins?
Zechariah reminds us—No, God is not punishing us for our sins in the tragedies and the stresses of our lives—our God is a merciful and compassionate God. Of course God judges and will judge us, and God corrects us and tries to guide our feet into the way of peace in our lives, but God judges with mercy and compassion, not with wrath and vindication.
Earlier, I said that we’ve lost our voices because somewhere deep down inside, we doubt the truth of the good news that Jesus brought the reign of God to earth, and that this work will someday be completed. We tend to sit and watch the tragedies of the world go by, or to remain silent in the face of injustices, or to turn our backs on the ugly situations that plague our world—because we believe that the world will always be this way and that nothing will ever change.
But if we truly believe the good news that God is merciful and compassionate and that we are a forgiven people, then we all become the sons and daughters of Zechariah.
We Christians who witness the tragedies all around us are the ones who are now called, like John the Baptist, to go before God to prepare God’s way in this tragic, destructive, merciless and godless age.
It’s our job now to prepare God’s way into the world.
And we prepare God’s way into this godless world when we live as God’s forgiven people and in return, forgive those who have trespassed against us—when we have mercy and compassion on those around us—because God has mercy and compassion for each one of us.
Zechariah sings out that because God is compassionate, God’s light will shine on us –as he puts it, ”the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
God is calling us to be the light in this world by reflecting God’s light and glory wherever God sends us.
Being light in the world and preparing the way can be something as simple as Eunice’s mother smiling at each person she met on the street, no matter where she was, because as she said, someone might need that smile today.
Preparing the way can be as demanding as moving to a slum full of garbage collectors in Cairo, Egypt and starting a school, a vocational training center and a medical clinic as the Coptic Orthodox priest Father Samaan Ibraim did.
Or preparing the way can be a community effort, like our community dinners for the people of Port Royal, or the Village Dinners or Bible study at the jail, or the ways in which we care mercifully and graciously for one another as a congregation.
Our gracious God has set each one of us free to prepare the way with our own unique gifts, and to live as forgiving, merciful, compassionate light-filled people walking in the way of peace that God has laid out for us.
Imagine what you could do if you truly heard and believed the Good News about God’s coming reign we Christians say we believe. Imagine what you could do for God in these “in between” times if you claimed your voice, and lived out the Good News.
Imagine that Zechariah is here in our midst, calling out to each one of us, “You, my children, will be called the prophets of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the Way.”
Let’s get our voices back!
Praising our merciful and compassionate God, as the forgiven children of God, let’s take Zechariah up the challenge to go before the Lord to prepare God’s way.
Resource: Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on Christ’s Birth, by Paul-Gordon Chandler. Morehouse Publishing, 2009.