As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.
A reading from the Gospel of Luke.
Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham–a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.”
“And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”
— Luke 1:67-79 (The Message)
Leading into Zacariah’s prophecy, we get the story of the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appears to Zacariah and tells him that his wife will have a baby. But, he and his wife, Elizabeth, aren’t exactly young. In fact, we’re told they were “quite old.”
Zachariah was a priest. He knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows one story in particular – Abraham and Sarah.
Says, “You’re going to be a pop. Congratulations.”
Just like Sarah did.
Here is a priest. A man who has taught hundreds of Jewish children their history. And he laughs at a story–an epic story central to his people’s history–that he’s heard before.
This story shows hope.
Once again, we see God choosing the unlikely to become the molder of history.
An old man.
An old woman.
The foreteller of the Messiah.
God removing people from their personal dramas to make them a part of His story.
The angel tells Zachariah that his lack of belief–belief of a story he’s known all his life–would result in his mouth being shut until the baby is born. Maybe, when we fail to believe in the promises of God, He would prefer that we just keep our mouth shut.
Contrast Elizabeth’s response. She “relishes” in the fact that she is pregnant. Fortunately for her, Zachariah couldn’t talk. He couldn’t be the wet-blanket that he would have undoubtedly been if he had been able to speak. He couldn’t derail the joy of God as we so often do when we hear a promise of God that will remove us from our own dramas.
Then the baby is born.
“Name him John”, Elizabeth says.
No one in the family is named John.
But, Zacariah, speaks.
“Name him John.”
God likes to work counter-culturally.
God often takes us from what’s comfortable when He uses us in His story. He doesn’t remove us from the drama, rather He walks with us through the drama.
Zachariah then prophesies. He says that this boy, John, would foretell the coming of the Messiah.
Then he makes a profound statement: “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”
Because God has chosen to have mercy on us once again, He will break through our darkness with His beautiful sunrise.
The beauty of Emmanuel is that Emmanuel is right now. God is with us in the right now.
Emmanuel doesn’t airlift us out of our situations, rather he parachutes in to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” with us. In the midst of our darkness, He breaks in with His sunrise.
When Job is in deepest despair, God speaks out of the storm.
When Elijah is hiding in a cave, God breaks in with a still, small voice.
When His people were in slavery, God burns a bush to get Moses’ attention.
When we are struggling with addictions, God’s sunrise brings us comfort and strength.
When we are experiencing death, God’s sunrise brings us hope of new life.
In the middle of our darkness – our personal drama – God’s sunrise, Emmanuel, breaks in and moves us into His story.