Luke 1:5-25 (NRSV)
5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 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. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 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. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 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.” 18 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.” 19 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. 20 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.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 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. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
It is that time of year….
We have begun the journey to Christmas…
For weeks, months, we have endured constant commercials about BLACK FRIDAY…
We ran head long into Halloween, Replaced the dead bodies in the trees, with sparkling lights
Took down the cobwebs and put up garland
Stowed the coffins and skeletons and put out the snowmen and reindeer—
Even in the midst of holiday cheer —- hopelessness threatens.
For a season that is supposed to be full of cheer and glad tidings…
ITS THERE –
Lying in bed at night—it’s there.
Racing around hunting for gifts — it’s there.
Driving past houses decorated with flashing lights and pounding music… it’s there.
What is there? HOPELESSNESS
Those among us who struggle with depression or who are grieving.
The musical Show Boat takes place in the late 1800s on the Mississippi River. In the story an African American man named Joe has had a hard life eking out a living as a dockworker. He has had a life of incredible struggle.
At one point in the musical, Joe sings a song called “Old Man River.” It’s a song about the timelessness of the river—that it just keeps on rolling along no matter what happens.
The lyrics include “I get weary, and sick of trying. I’m tired of living but scared of dying. But Old Man River, he keeps on rolling along.”
Every day we pass someone who may be tired of living and sick of trying…Some of us have been on the brink of hopelessness – and can’t see how we can make it to tomorrow.
BUT — Advent is all about hope. Hope isn’t something we can manufacture. Hope doesn’t appear because we pick ourselves up and forge ahead… or force ourselves to be more hopeful. Hope doesn’t come with the power of positive thinking.
So, where does it come from? It comes from knowing God and trusting God’s promises.
Promises like—I will never leave you — blessed are the poor — God blesses those who share–God blesses those who care for one another.
God promised that if we search for Him we will find Him.
God promised that all things will work out for good for His children.
God promised comfort in our trials.
Jesus promised abundant life to those who follow Him -We hold to God’s promise that Jesus will come back, ushering in a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no more tears or mourning or crying or pain.
What does it look like to hope in God’s promises?
As a chaplain, I see different responses to God’s promises…it is not unusual to have two families in crisis and needing a chaplain . This is when the chaplain has to move back and forth between the families …AND how differently two families face a loved one’s imminent.
In one room, there was a dying child and a family utterly devoid of hope; a room was permeated by a sense of deep despair.
No one wanting prayer – ‘what’s the point?’
In another room down the hall, a young man was dying. His family was gathered at his bedside in tears, but with a decidedly different response. They are sad, but they are not without hope saying “We know that he isn’t going to make it, but we know that we will see him again.”
The difference between hopelessness and hope was only the length of the hallway—and between trusting in God’s promises and having no God at all.
Today in Luke Chapter 1 we meet Zechariah. He is a faithful man, and his wife, Elizabeth, is a faithful woman. They have served God their whole lives. They have no children. Yet they kept coming back to the temple and worshiping even though their lives had been difficult. They persevered in serving God. They believed that God’s promises were true.
Having given up on having children, they found it difficult to believe that God was going to give them a son… But Zechariah and Elizabeth are given a new promise, and with it, new hope. There will be a child. His name will be John. He will bring great joy and gladness. This is the beginning of the New Testament’s record of Jesus. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son will be John the Baptist—the one who prepares the way for Jesus himself.
Do we know God’s promises to us? This is one of the most important reasons to study the Scriptures. That is how we learn of God’s promises and find hope. Christian author Anne Lamott says: “that when things get really terrible, painful, and awful, it’s often because something amazing is getting ready to be born.”
God brings hope out of hopelessness…For every string of shootings and violence… there are people stepping up to help –
When there are Earthquakes and floods – there are stories of bravery and assistance. Through Jesus comes the Good News and the HOPE that this is not all there is. God of the universe loves us so much and God will always make things right again.
Advent is our time of waiting and preparation for Christ to return. It is our time of HOPE, so, as we look forward — let us hold fast to HOPE and God’s promise that the best is yet to come. What an incredible gift to find under the tree.
Thanks be to the Holy Spirit!