Sunday, December 5, 2010

Zechariah’s Song – Redemptions Joy – 12.5

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and today we light the Candle of JOY. Our joy is rooted in God, our God who loves; our God who loves all of us – all of his people.  The joy of today is that God has asked us to live, walk, sing, and participate in his Kingdom. Today we can live a joyful life because our God, our savior, our Lord, daily walks among us.
Here this morning we can have JOY!  Here in this very moment joy, is available.  Wrapped up in a blanket, clothed in human flesh is God incarnate.  From a virgins womb comes our king, the baby Jesus; the King who would triumphantly ride into the city upon the back of a donkey.  It is God incarnate who washes the feet of the poor, the broken, and the downtrodden. In just a few weeks we celebrate our King, born in a manger, surrounded by animals, with his loving arms outstretched. Jesus came to flip our understanding of what it means to be in community.  He came to change our world view.  Christ came that we may have joy and have it more abundantly.
But here we are – in this season of Advent – where we wait patiently for the arrival of baby Jesus. Here we are in the weeks leading up to Christmas when we recognize the “already – but not yet” aspects of our Lord. In this season we are given the opportunity to remember and try to understand what it must have been like – for those who lived before the arrival of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
This year, as we patiently wait for the birth of Christ, during Advent we are looking at the songs of a few characters from the story. Last week we looked at Mary’s song. Today we hear Zechariah’s, and the following weeks will include John the Baptist’s, the Angles’ and Simeon’s songs.
If you’re sitting there wondering just what Zechariah’s song is – It’s located in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and begins with verse 67. Let’s read it together.
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 
69 He has raised up a horn[
c] of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— 72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear  75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 
76 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, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

            When I was in college I used to carry my little hand held bible with its tiny little print with me everywhere. It was great; it was the era of the cargo pants. Do you remember them? They’re still around, but not like they were in the late 90’s. You could hardly find a pair of pants that weren’t cargos. I remember one day walking along cafe-lane and as I passed a group of friends, the girl was commenting how she didn’t like cargos with all their pockets. She was going on and on about how no one uses all those pockets and how they were useless and not very attractive. As she got to the part about them being useless I walked by. Without saying anything – I simply began emptying my pockets. I pulled something out of nearly every pocket I had. I had my yo-yo in my front left pocket along with some gum, and I had my keys in my front right. I had my wallet in my back pocket and hand lotion in the right-side cargo pocket. And over in my left-side cargo pocket – was my little hand held bible.
            This little hand held bible has been with me and helped me through some pretty tough times in my life – especially in college; times of loneliness, uncertainty, confusion, betrayal, persecution and doubt. You know, the cargo pockets might not have lasted long – but I’m sure glad I had room for all that stuff, especially the little hand held bible with its tiny little print.
            I remember reading from this little bible inside my Chevy truck waiting for a friend. I was parked just outside of Brown Chapel on Point Loma’s campus. It was dark, I had my cab light on as I read Mark chapter 9.

            What passage of Scripture do you come back to – or did you rely on – in your toughest moments?

            In the midst of my loneliness, uncertainty, confusion, doubt and unbelief – inside my truck outside of Brown Chapel and even today I turn to Mark chapter 9. Mark 9:24 “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
            Just thinking about the role this passage has played in my life over the years is powerful. It’s emotional, moving, inspiring, and humbling. If I pause on it too long, reflect upon it for more than a moment – I can feel my eyes well up.
            So – Are you wondering what the connection is between Mark 9 and Zechariah’s Song?
            When I began reading and working on this passage, I had to go and be reminded of who Zechariah was and why he was singing – or prophesying as it were. To be honest, I was confused for a little bit as to why we were hearing from Zechariah and not Joseph. To be honest, I had to remind myself who Zechariah was. To do that – I started reading from the beginning of the chapter.
            This is a really hard passage, this Song of Zechariah, to just read 10 verses from and speak on. We have to look at the whole of the chapter – we have to understand all the elements of the situation to be able to hear Zechariah’s song, to hear his hope and to hear his joy!
            Zechariah and his wife were both kind of old – and childless. Zechariah was part of the priests, and when it was his turn to go into the temple and do the routine temple things… he was greeted by an angel. A most un-routine kind of thing! He was told his wife would bear him a son – and his name will be John. The angel goes on to tell Zechariah that John will be a joy and a delight!
            Zechariah – like many of the other Hebrew Hero’s of the Bible – was a realist, he was a bit skeptical. Even being a priest, knowing the Torah, and living a life of faithfulness, Zechariah had some doubts. He wasn’t sure how in his (and his wife’s) old age he was gonna have a son. So he asks the angel how he can be sure.
            Well, apparently that was the wrong question to ask. Perhaps the lesson when an angel speaks to you – don’t ask questions. The angel tells him because of his unbelief he will be mute until the birth of his son. He can’t talk, he is unable to say anything all because of his unbelief.
            There’s the connection – did you see it? Zechariah was struck mute because of his unbelief. Sometimes we’re a lot like Zechariah aren’t we. We go through the routines. We do what we’re supposed to. We do what’s expected… but we lack a little faith. We lack understanding. We lack belief in the power, the action, the love, the faithfulness, the presence of God. We forget that our Loving God is here, caring about us.
            Nine months later Zechariah’s son is born, they are about to circumcise him and give the child his name. And the men assume he will be named after his father – but Elizabeth says his name will be John. Blown away the men go to Zechariah to ask him what the boys name shall be. After writing John on a tablet – his voice comes back. And he doesn’t just talk – he begins to sing!
            He doesn’t just talk, he sings, he praises the Lord. He gives “Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.”
Today I love hearing Paul’s words to the Romans found in chapter 15:13, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
He says: may you be filled with ALL joy and ALL peace as you trust in him. May you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. His prayer is that we would be so full of joy and peace that as our cup overflows – hope floods the gates. Paul’s prayer for us is that our joy, our excitement, our passion will transpire into the lives of others as hope for their own situations, for their own lives!
This passage from Paul for some reason reminds me of the last Presidential race and Obama’s campaign vastly rooted in one word. Hope. Not caring what your political leanings are - the hope we seek, as Christians, as people of faith – is a hope of change. In this season, we better hope that God incarnate changes things. The hope we seek is one of change in perspective, a change in location, and change of allegiance. The hope that overflows, is one of justice, and one of mercy. The hope of change, in life, in perspective, in relationship – the hope of change found in Christmas – is one brought on by the joy found in salvation. The hope of Christmas is found in the joy of redemption!
Zechariah knew this to be true. After being struck silent for nine months – the joy at the birth of his son caused him to praise God for his faithful acts of redemption! He began to “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” After being mute for nine months, the joy at the birth of Zechariah’s son caused him to praise God for his faithful acts of redemption!

In the midst of Advent, in this midst of this season with its hustle and bustle and emphasis on consumerism, I hope the words from the song by Over the Rhine ring true for us! Because as we await the birth of our savior, we know we need “A New Redemption Song.” We have tried to do it on our own, but it hasn’t worked. As we have sat in unbelief, skepticism and uncertainty, we need to claim as the father did in Mark 9 – “help me overcome my unbelief!” As we sit around pondering the reason for the season, as we’re lambasted by memories of old, reflecting on scriptures that got us through those hard times… As we wait in the darkness, the confusion, and in the stable filled with dirty animals – we know we need something different. We know God’s love is out there – calling us to sing “A New Redemption Song”

Lord, we need a new redemption song. Lord, we’ve tried, it just seems to come out wrong.
Won’t you help us please? Help us just to sing along, a new redemption song, a new redemption song.

Lord, we need a new redemption day. All our worries keep getting in the way.
Won’t you help us please? Help us find the words to pray, to bring redemption day, to bring redemption day

Lord, we need a new redemption song. Lord, we’ve tried, it just seems to come out wrong.
Won’t you help us please? Help us just to sing along, a new redemption song, a new redemption song.

As we patiently wait for the birth of Christ, we like Zechariah need Christ’s Redemption song in our lives. We need to join hands, step up, and join the choir. Singing isn’t a spectator position. It’s an activity – Mary’s done it, Zechariah’s done it, and John the Baptist does it. We need his help to sing along. Our world continues to need the new redemption song Christ sings in us!
Our joy, our true joy, is found in our participation in Christ’s song of redemption. We must prepare the way for the Lord. We must sing and proclaim – as God’s provocateur of Prevenient Grace we must sow seeds of justice, mercy, and love. Seeds of hope! Seeds of compassion!
In the midst of our unbelief, God the Father shows his compassion. In the midst of darkness, God the Son emanates with love. In the midst of our hectic lives, God the Holy Spirit fills us with joy; a joy so rich that we overflow with hope – God’s loving redeeming hope for this broken and hurting world.
We are filled with joy so we may overflow with hope!

 As you go, be filled with redemptions JOY and overflowing with hope… Go and Love!