Sunday 5 December 21 – Pandemic Peace

Readings: Luke 1:5-20, 57-64; Luke 3:1-6;   

MESSAGE: Watch the recording of the prayers, readings and message from Sunday, or read the message below.

They were the perfect couple. He a priest serving God. She a faithful wife. Both of them had a good family tree on Ancestry.com. Descendants of Aaron on both sides of the family. They could have sung the Aaronic blessing with some authority.

An historian at the time – one Dr Luke, a reputable scholar of his day – records this: Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. (1:6).

In their generation they were like Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. The didn’t just have a go at following their religion. They walked blamelessly before God.

You know those families who write Christmas letters about their perfect families? With their perfect kids. And their superlative grandchildren. Angels and saints all of them?

Don’t believe  a word of it. There is no perfect family.

These wonderful faithful obedient people had a terrible problem.

She was barren. An economic and social disaster really. You needed children in your old age to care for you – the effective pension of the day. And barrenness was often socially seen as a sign of sin.

And they were both old. The NIV is kind in its translation: “and they were both well along in years.” Others say “advanced.”  You know as we get older we like to be classified as mature, not in old aged. The KJV says they were “well stricken in years.” (The bad news is that advanced years could just mean over 60 in that context.) 😊

Our eminent historian Dr Luke continues his narrative: Luk 1:8  Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, Luk 1:9  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

Yes indeed, they had duty rosters too!

His division was on duty.

And he drew the right lot – like throwing dice I guess – or drawing straws – to have his once in a lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the temple.

Zechariah served for one week twice a year at the temple, one of perhaps eighteen thousand priests who served in a year. Offering the incense was something a priest could do only once in his career. It was a great moment for Zechariah, all the more so because of the sovereign plan God had for him and his family.

He just didn’t realize it. Maybe he was so burdened by his pension worries or lack thereof, or the seeming indifference of people towards God – that he was going through the motions. Not really expecting God to act.

They didn’t have COVID issues back then. But they did have an oppressive foreign power in charge.

Maybe he was so burdened or just flat that he really didn’t expect anything. I mean they must have prayed for a solution. After all when the time comes the angel says: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.”

And then the list of what this baby would do and be:

  1. A joy and delight to his parents; 2. Great in the sight of the Lord 3.filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth; 4. He will bring back many people of Israel to their God; 5. He will go before the Lord in the power of Elijah; 6. Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children; 7: make ready a people prepared for the Lord

Because the best was yet to come.

In fact he was so surprised that he doubted the message of an angel. The angel Gabriel. Who gives his name only because Zechariah was a bit dumbfounded. Uncertain. Doubting. (a good biblical tradition there although in Abraham’s case Sarah was the one who laughed when Isaac was promised.)

So instead of being able to tell the story – even of his privileged moment in the holy place –  he is struck dumb.

The life of Mr. and Mrs. Perfect was even more complex now. Pregant wife of advanced years..Dumb husband who finishes his duty and then goes home, only so say nothing.

Some (perhaps a bit cynically) have suggest that it may have been the best nine months of Elizabeth’s life. When she wanted her husband to do something, he couldn’t even argue.

Luke then proceeds to give an account of cousin Mary’s challenging conception. And then returns to Zechariah and Elizabeth again.

After the baby is born, Zechariah is redeemed when is able to name the boy correctly, and is then able to speak again.

Like cousin Jesus, John’s family would have an interesting time.

John ended up quite a character in the desert – fulfilling the vows of a Nazarite. Wearing clothes of camel hair and eating wild locusts and honey. (What did they write about him in their end of year letter? Like teachers writing reports, there are ways to say things: “he has an unusually rustic/earthy fashion sense and is ahead of his time in using insects as food to save the planet from methane/cows.) 

Unusual bloke. Living in the desert and then suddenly emerging onto the religious scene with a serious call to repentance. Jesus later tells the people that they said John had a demon.

We don’t even know if his parents lived to see his adult ministry.

But the outcome would be good.

From a troubled aging couple with a limited future to being part of God’s plan for the world.

Zechariah the dumb then becomes the last prophet of the Old Testament era before Jesus starts his ministry.

That year of silence could only have done him good. His growth is seen in the power of his prophecy over John. We read part of it as our call to worship.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

It’s a stunning declaration. “…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” –  Pointing to Jesus the Prince of Peace. Jesus.

John would be arrested quite soon the account in Luke. We heard Luke chapter 3 introduce his ministry:

3:2b … the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. Luk 3:3  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luk 3:4  As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Luk 3:5  Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luk 3:6  And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’

  • By Luke 3:20 (14 verses later) we are told he was to be arrested by Herod and put in prison.
  • By Luke 7:20 John’s disciples are sending a message from him to Jesus Are you he one who was come, or should we expect something else?
  • And then he is beheaded by Herod.

But he did his job. He prepared the way. Softened hearts to repentance in order to  make people open to the One. That was to come. The one.

In the words of his father: … for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Jesus said of him:  Luk_7:28  I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; (yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.)

  • Roman occupation and tyranny and taxes.
  • Covid Pandemic and disrupted life and dreams?
  • Worries about the future and your provision in old age?
  • Going through the motions doing your duty and wondering whether the breakthrough will come?

It doesn’t matter what century we live in.

Don’t be like John in prison sending a message to Jesus? Are you the one?

The one of whom Zechariah prophesied: the one “by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

It’s been a long hard and sometimes dark year for many – actually two years of gloom.

Even when  things are supposed to get better, the traffic light is still red.

We live under new tyrannies. It’s no surprise that thinking people are alarmed by the way in which we are categorized, certified, or marginalized and ostracized over our response to civic authorities or our different views on a raft of things.

Who are we if not a people of the Kingdom of God which was prepared for by John and ushered in by Jesus who is THE ONE.

There is Pandemic Peace when we have our hand firmly held by the ONE who brought peace in reconciling us to God and still brings peace no matter what disaster befalls us.

Whose hand are you reaching out to hold onto in these crazy times? Where is your anchor connected?

I think Elvis and Johnny Cash sang a gospel song that went like this: Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters, calmed the sea. Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee. (Written by Gene MacLellan and made famous by Anne Murray – both Canadians)

That’s where we find our peace.

At Advent we light a candle of peace on this Sunday. We have a virtual candle which you can see on our website.

Don’t let anything rob you of the peace He gives.

Receive his word and promise to us again today: John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Amen.

About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. Preaching and teaching remains a joy.. More recently I have been doing some part time voluntary prison chaplaincy.

Posted on December 6, 2021, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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