Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Song of Zechariah






Luke 1:67-79
November 29, 2015, Advent 1
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry



If you have ever waited for something –
a day to come, a friend to arrive, a phone call with the diagnosis –
if you have ever waited a long time,
waited to the point of despair,
if you have ever waited until you are about to give up,
you know how Zechariah felt.

Zechariah was a priest in the order of Abijah.
He was a righteous man.
He had served God faithfully since he was young.
For many years, he and his wife Elizabeth had served God,
and for many years, they had prayed for a child.
For many years, they had waited.
It was a prayer that had gone unanswered until it was too late.

They were elderly.
There was no child.

Zechariah was a good priest, a man of God.
But all of his life, he had been waiting,
waiting for a son that never would come,
waiting for a Messiah that had never arrived,
waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

The waiting had ended, but it had been replaced by a sense of despair.
Zechariah had taught the people as well as he could,
tried to lead them in the ways of righteousness and God’s law.
But the chosen people were not following God’s path as they should.
They had lost any sense of eagerness about God’s promises.
It seemed that they, too had stopped waiting, stopped hoping for a Savior,
just as he and Elizabeth has stopped hoping for a son.

Zechariah surely had observed how often people did the wrongs
they had promised not to do.
He surely had seen that the good they could do,
the good they promised to do, that they were not doing.
But Zechariah, the good pastor, continued to serve faithfully,
He offered up the incense,
and with the fragrant smoke,
his prayers lifted toward his faithful and loving God.

And then it happened.

He was terrified when the angel appeared.
But the angel said to him,
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.
You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He must never drink wine or strong drink;
even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him,
to 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.’

Zechariah said to the angel,
“How will I know that this is so?
For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”

The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God,
and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
But now, because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled in their time,
you will become mute, unable to speak,
until the day these things occur.”

And that was what happened.

If you’ve ever waited for something,
waited to the point of despair, of hopelessness,
you know how Zechariah must have felt.
It was too much to believe.
He was literally speechless.
How frustrating – to have such good news to share, and not be able to speak!
It would be torture for some of us!
Zechariah was unable to tell Elizabeth about answered prayers,
unable to tell her about the angel’s announcement,
unable to tell her that their son! their SON!
would be the one to prepare the way for the Messiah.
For nine long months, he would wait again.
But this time, he would wait with hope.
Zechariah must have felt the hope growing in his heart
the way the baby was growing in Elizabeth’s body.

For nine long months, Zechariah composed his song.
For nine months, until John’s circumcision,
that melody would be running through Zechariah’s mind.
It was a song born of waiting,
a song born of despair that turned to hope.
If you have ever waited,
waited in despair that turned to hope,
waited to share news that you could not tell,
waited for joy that you had thought would never come,
waited for delight to be yours,
you know what it was like for Zechariah and Elizabeth and their people.

When the waiting is done,
when the hope is fulfilled,
when the joy is real,
when the despair is vanquished,
tears fill your eyes,
you choke up,
you laugh and cry at the same time,
and when words come,
they are a song of praise and gratitude!

Just as it was in Zechariah’s lifetime,
the people of the world, the people of every nation, tribe and language
wait for a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

But we do not wait without hope!
We do not wait in despair!
Advent is a time of waiting, but we can sing, too!
When Zechariah’s tongue was loosed, he declared the message boldly!
It is the same message for us to declare!
It is the same song for us to sing,
to join our voices once again with hope, with assurance:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
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.’
It is a song of repentance and a song of hope,
a song of thanksgiving to the God of the covenant,
the God who keeps promises.
It is our song --
the song of our hearts,
a song of hope fulfilled.
It is our song, and we join our voices in hope
as we await the coming of the promised one,
the savior of the world - Christ the Lord.

Amen.

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