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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Scripture Reading | Luke 1:5–24

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 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.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. (NRSV)

It’s easy to sympathize with Zechariah in this story; after all, how many times are our prayers answered in the form of an angel giving us what we want? And yet, as with many other characters throughout the biblical story, Zechariah doesn’t believe the promises that he’s hearing. His vision in the temple and the seemingly impossible promise that Gabriel gives contains echoes of other biblical stories both before and after it: Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Elkanah, and Mary and Joseph. Just like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah is shocked that such a thing would occur in his life even though he, as a priest, has presumably heard stories like this countless times before.

In that respect, the improbable birth of John the Baptist is not merely an isolated incident; it’s a continuation of the covenant promises that God makes all the way back in Genesis. God will be with God’s people, making the impossible possible and surprising us all with a depth of grace we can barely comprehend.

Many of us have grown accustomed to the rhythm of this season, crazy as it is. There is predictability in the songs, shopping, parties, and décor. But in this Advent season, as we wait patiently for the Christ child, may each of us be open to surprise, wonder, and the unexpected. May we wait in hope for a moment, like Zechariah, that renders us speechless.

Surprise me in the midst of this Advent season, O God. May you give me a glimpse of your grace and love in these Advent days and may your promises render me speechless. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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