Enduring to Praise
Enduring to Praise
Maybe you noticed... maybe you didn’t. But someone very important to the Christmas story is missing from our readings for today. Who is it? Who’s not mentioned by name?
Our Scripture starts, “Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”
Of course, if we were to read that scripture alone... it kinda sounds like it’s referring to Jesus... but... not so fast! Jesus hasn’t even been born yet!
Our scripture from Luke is a prophetic song of praise to God, offered by Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest... and the husband of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth... and the father of John the Baptist.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, and childless (which was considered a curse in those days)... but one day while tending to his priestly duties in the Temple, an angel appeared to Zechariah, with the news that Elizabeth would conceive and give birth to a son... which was beyond belief to Zechariah... and because of his disbelief, he was struck mute - unable to speak (which is an actual curse... at least for a priest!).
Well, as the story goes, when the baby was born, and it was time to give him a name, some wanted to name him after Zechariah, but Elizabeth said, “No, his name is John.” And when Zechariah agreed, his inability to speak suddenly ended.
And that’s when, filled with the Holy Spirit... that Zechariah sings his hymn of praise to God. Zechariah knew that God had finally sent a new prophet to the Jewish people, after centuries of waiting. And that his son, John, would be that prophet... John would prepare the way for the coming Messiah... for Jesus. John was the one of which the Prophet Isaiah foretold: (40:1-5)
[The] voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
You know... it’s amazing, to me, that after 9-months of silence... after 9-months of not being able to communicate... the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth were praises to God. No grumbling... no complaining... no “woe-is-me” for having to endure such awful and unfair treatment.
That’s not the usual response to hardship... is it? It’s not OUR usual response as followers of Christ, even.
I know because it’s not my usual response to the difficulty and unfairness of life. “God, why is this happening to me? God where are you... where have you been? Why do I feel so alone, and abandoned, and secluded, when you promised you’d always be with me?”
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever asked such questions?
I know I have... and I also know I’m not alone. The Bible is filled with people who’ve wrestled with the seemingly silent absence of God. Have you ever read the Psalms? The Psalms are filled with questions we all ask: “Lord, do you reject me completely? Do you hide your face from me? O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof! How long will you leave us to the will of our enemies? How long must I wait... how long do I have to endure?”
And that’s kinda where the Jewish people found themselves... in a state of endurance... of waiting... of wondering why God seemed silent, and “missing” from their lives.
Think about it: they were under the control of the Romans... oppressed and occupied. Politically, and spiritually things seemed pretty bleak. The Jews were God’s people... yet God had allowed the pagan, un-godly Roman Empire to rule over his people! It was unfathomable!
And I think we can certainly relate... can’t we? Because maybe... maybe like the absent “Jesus” in our scripture... and like the “silence” of God for so long among the Jews... maybe there are places in our lives today where we feel like Jesus is not present. Situations and experiences where we can’t audibly proclaim the praise of God. Moments when we’re struck mute by our disbelief.
Sometimes we struggle with circumstances that cause us - or tempt us - to believe that Jesus just isn’t there. Of course, he’s implied - I keep telling myself (and others keep telling me) that he’s there (that he’s here), but I can’t quite see him, or feel Jesus, or sense Jesus in my situation.”
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Do you ever relate to that? Does God sometimes seem absent? Are there places, or times, when your don’t feel God’s presence?
If so... Hold on my friends. Hold on. Cling with all your might to the Christ who is clinging to you!
You can’t always feel the sun shining... but you know it’s there. Sometimes it’s hidden by the clouds, or the darkness of night... but it’s always shining!
And God is always present. Jesus never, ever leaves us. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. Whether we’re aware of his abiding presence or not... Christ is always with us.
As the people of God... we wait... knowing that our Redemption is near. And when it comes, we will know it... and we’ll all proclaim with Zechariah: “Praise be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.”
For this is the Word of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.