Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 9, 2012

2012.12.09 “Something to Look Forward To!” – Luke 1: 68 – 79; Luke 3: 1 – 6 2nd Sunday of Advent

Central United Methodist Church

Something to Look Forward To!

Luke 1: 68 – 79; Luke 3: 1 – 6

The 2nd Sunday of Advent

December 9th, 2012

 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

          “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

          make his paths straight.
               Every valley shall be filled,

          and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,

          and the rough ways made smooth;
               and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

– Luke 3: 1 – 6, the New Revised Standard Version

        Here’s a question for you: what are you looking forward to? Anything exciting on the horizon? Are you anticipating the birth of a child or grandchild? Is there a wedding coming up in your family? Anybody graduating from school? Looking forward to a new job? Got a vacation coming up? Why do I ask? Because everybody needs something to look forward to.

With the completion of our Charge Conference last Sunday, (which I’ve been looking forward to), I feel like I came to the end of three months of non-stop work. Now what? A little breather, and – oh yeah – that thing called Christmas. The part about Christmas I’m looking forward to the most will be seeing and visiting with my older children, Chris and his wife Lynne, my daughter Melissa, and of course, my grandson, Logan, whom I’ve only seen twice in his first 10 months of life.

Some of us might even admit quite sadly there’s not much going on in our lives right now, that “we have nothing to look forward to.” A job may have ended, a spouse may have died, our health might be getting worse rather than better, most of our life is behind us, and we may be tempted to say, “I have nothing to look forward to right now, at least nothing that I can see.” Some might even go so far as to say, “My life right now is a wilderness, with nothing on the horizon, just a few sagebrushes blowing across the landscape” So, preacher, what word from the Lord do you have for me this morning?

The word from the Lord that I have for you this morning is that, in ways and places and persons unexpected, the Word of God comes to us – even in the wilderness of our lives – bringing new beginnings.  Let me describe how.

On this second Sunday in Advent, as we continue our journey toward Bethlehem and another year of telling the story of the One born there, we look for signs of what is about to happen. We find such signs, but in the most unlikely of places.

You might think that if something new and important were about to happen, we would see signs of it in the most obvious places, among the high and mighty. At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke seems to suggest that too, over and again setting the Gospel events within their historical context. And so he begins by telling us what happened “in the days of King Herod of Judea.”

Except what happened had nothing to do with King Herod, at least not in a good way; the first sign of something new and important happening came in the birth of a baby. No, not that baby, Jesus, but the birth of Jesus’ cousin, John.  We know him as the Baptist, but before he was John the Baptist, he was John the Baby.

John the Baby’s parents were a priest named Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth, who were getting on in years, and running out of time, because nothing was happening, at least in the baby department. So maybe they felt they had nothing to look forward to.

Until, one day, while serving in the temple, an angel appeared to Zechariah, always a sign in the Bible that something new and important is about to happen. The angel said what angels always have to say: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, 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.”  Suddenly, not just Zechariah and Elizabeth, but lots of people have something to look forward to!

Who and why will eventually be made clear by Zechariah, but not immediately. I don’t know what you would have done, but if I had heard what Zechariah heard I would likely have said what he said: “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years?” The angel probably should have just said, “You can’t know, Zechariah, you have to believe, that’s why it’s called faith.” But because Zechariah said what he said he was rendered mute, unable to speak, until the birth of the child. Not the first nor the last time a man has been rendered speechless at the knowledge he’s about to be a father.

When the child was born and named, Zechariah was able to speak, and what he had to say! He sang that great song of praise known in Latin as the Benedictus, our Psalm today, prayed every day by those who pray the Daily Office. And it’s no wonder, because the words of Zechariah’s song apply equally whether it is an Emperor that makes us miserable, a difficult colleague, or an unhappy marriage. Whether it is a Roman occupation that oppresses, or a struggle with a powerful addiction. Whether it’s rulers like Herod that threaten to destroy, or a struggle with depression, grief, or loneliness. Whether its unsympathetic priests that overwhelm, or simply feeling lost at school or work with no friends.  Zechariah’s song of praise, the Benedictus, remains so powerful, because it expresses the intentions of God for God’s people – something to look forward to, whatever situation we find ourselves in.

                 “Out of God’s deepest mercy

                          A dawn will come from on high,

                 Light for those shadowed by death,

                          a guide for our feet on the way to peace.”

         But that’s not all.  Years pass, and – unknown and unseen – John the Baby becomes John the Baptist, and what happened then, Luke again sets into historical context, naming names that generations of Christian’s tongues have tripped over every since:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis,         and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas . . .”

It’s like saying, “When Barack Obama was President, and Pat Quinn was governor of Illinois and Rahm Emmanuel Mayor of Chicago, and Francis George was Cardinal . . .”

But Luke has the audacity to say: “But don’t look there, look over here: “The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” The What – the Word of God – came to Who – John son of Zechariah – Where – in the wilderness?  “Really,” Luke dares his readers ask: “What does the birth of two small children or the ministry of a misplaced prophet have to do with kings, emperors, and governors?” And Luke’s reply: “Everything!”

That’s the way it is with Luke’s Gospel; it seems so insignificant it’s easy to miss. Luke begins his story by making the outrageous claim that God is at work in the weak and small rather than the high and mighty – in babies and barren women and unwed teenage mothers and wild-eyed prophets and an itinerant preacher, who would die as an executed criminal.  It is such that God is using to change the world. Really?

To be sure, in any time and every time it’s easy to feel small, insignificant, and overlooked in the world, surrounded by what seem like insurmountable problems, perplexing challenges, and visible leaders who refuse to lead.

But could it still be true, that God continues to work in unlikely ways, in unexpected places, through unknown people, even when our life feels like a wilderness?  Could God still work through unwed teens and out-of-work adults and corporate executives and stay-at-home parents and underpaid caretakers and night-shift workers and police officers and volunteer coaches and even burned out preachers, to announce the good news of God’s redemption?  It’s a promise that’s easy to miss, but when we hear it and see it, and even more importantly, when we experience it in our own lives, it changes us along with the world.

It’s an outrageous claim Luke makes, that this “Word of the Lord” that came to this nobody named John in the wilderness, is more important than all the important people and events of his day. And yet this Word is the word that, as Isaiah said, fills valleys and levels mountains, straightens out what is crooked and smoothes rough places, to build a path whereby God can bring us God’s love and mercy. This is not the same word that comes to us nobodies in the wilderness, in our nowhere congregations and communities?

The word from the Lord that I have for you this morning is that, in ways and places and persons unexpected, the Word of God still comes to us – even in the wilderness of our lives – bringing new hope and new beginnings – such that – as long as we live, we always have something to look forward to.

Did you see last week that the world’s oldest person died? 116 year-old Bessie Cooper, a retired Georgia school teacher with a passion for politics, died quietly in her bed at a Monroe, Georgia, nursing home, one of only 8 people recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records to have lived that long. She had recently battled stomach flu, but had reportedly recovered by Monday. On Tuesday, she had her hair set and watched a Christmas movie, but then experienced breathing problems, and died about 2 p.m. Her son, Sidney, reported that’d she had repeatedly said some of her best years were in her ‘80’s. So you never know. You always have something to look forward to!

 

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Responses

  1. A sermon worthy of thought and reflection, which interprets biblical happerings, and how it can be applied to our daily lives. Thank you.


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