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Luke 1:68-79


As we come to the second Sunday of Advent, we have been reminded by the prophets that a messiah is coming, and by the gospel, that this same messiah will come again. At the beginning of a new Christian year, the first Sunday of Advent leaves us with the call to be alert and pray as we walk through the terrible things that will happen prior to us standing before the Son of Man. The first Sunday of Advent leaves our ears perked up and our eyes open. The second Sunday of Advent teaches us to wait and proclaim with hope the coming of a savior.

Noting the ties between pregnancy and Advent Rev. Monica Coleman writes,

Advent is about pregnancy, and pregnancy is about waiting. Pregnant women wait. Waiting to share the good news. Waiting to feel like the baby is safe. Waiting to exhale. Pregnant women wait for morning sickness to end. Pregnant women wait to feel the first kick. Pregnant women wait for the baby to be born. There are no halos. It’s not that glamorous. Pregnant waiting is worrisome and frustrating.[1]

The words spoken by Zechariah come from a worrisome and frustrating place of divinely appointed, silent waiting. The story of Zechariah, the father of John the Forerunner, began back in Luke 1:5. Zechariah was a priest. Though his wife Elizabeth was barren (which in that day carried an embarrassing stigma and was thought to be the result of some sin or curse), Luke clarifies for his hearers that Zechariah and Elizabeth were, “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.” While doing his priestly work, Zechariah is met by the angel Gabriel who tells him that his prayers have been heard and Elizabeth will conceive a child who will be named John. Gabriel explains that Zechariah’s son John, will bring joy, be filled with the Holy Spirit, be great in the sight of the Lord, carry the power of Elijah and make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

There are some promises that just seem far too good to be true. There are some barriers that seem insurmountable. Zechariah asks Gabriel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” Gabriel reminds Zechariah that this good news is not coming from some human messenger, but from an angel who stands in God’s presence. Zechariah is struck mute. The sign that Zechariah asked for will be his ability to speak returning when all that Gabriel told him has been fulfilled. After emerging mute from the sanctuary, Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth conceives.

Employing a kind of intercalation, Luke makes us wait. While Zechariah waits in silence, the reader is left to wonder how his story will turn out. Luke drops into the middle of Zechariah’s silence Gabriel’s visit to Mary, Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and Mary’s prayer the Magnificat. Zechariah is put on hold, unable to speak, for nine months and three pericopes, watching and waiting as Elizabeth’s pregnancy comes to term. He silently attends as his unborn son John kicks for joy, and with Elizabeth, blesses Mary and the fruit of her womb Jesus.

Finally, the story that began early in Luke 1, comes to completion. John the Baptist, the Forerunner, who is to prepare the way for the Lord is born. On the day Zechariah’s son was circumcised, Gabriel’s promise is realized and Zechariah, after writing on a tablet “His name is John,” regains his ability to speak.

Zechariah’s words, which take the place of our psalm this week, are the words of a priest to his people and the words of a father to his son. They come from a man who has waited in pregnant silence for nine months, aware of God moving, but unable to say anything about what that might mean. Zechariah no doubt had much to say, but his tongue was tied. Luke 1:64 tells us, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.” (Luke 1:64, NRSV)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah proclaims first as a priest of the people of Israel. He speaks to the people of Israel in the past tense as if what is being said has already been fulfilled and is certain. After waiting and watching for so long, Zechariah finally proclaims in praise that God, “has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” This favor and redemption come through the presence of a “mighty savior” raised up from within the house of David. Zechariah explains that God has not forgotten what he promised through his prophets. Through this mighty savior, God’s people will be saved from those who hate them. Through God’s anointed He has “shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and remembered his holy covenant.” As a people who have been rescued they are now able to serve without fear, “in holiness and righteousness.”

The same Spirit that inspired Zechariah the priest to speak mercy, rescue, and holiness to his people, then inspires Zechariah the father to call his son to a sacred and light-giving purpose. Zechariah had never whispered to his son in the womb. He had never been able to speak his deep hopes for his son. Now after waiting in silence, as John is being brought by circumcision into the covenant of Israel, John’s high calling as forerunner spills from the lips of his father Zechariah.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79, NRSV)

These good words were spoken by a priest to his people, by a father to his son, and this Sunday we are called to pray these words as pastors with our parish. Some of those praying these words will be sitting not only in your pews and chairs, they will be sitting quietly “in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Some of those giving voice to these words this week will be people riddled with fear. Some of your people praying this prophecy have been hated by enemies real and imagined, feeling as though they have been assailed and overcome. There are some who feel that God has forgotten them; some whose longsuffering prayers have not been answered.

Something life-giving and holy is about to be born. The time for silence has ended. Today you are the priest speaking God’s grace over your people. Today you are like a father calling your son to a sacred vocation. Today you are the forerunner. Prepare the way of the Lord. Let your mouth be opened, and your tongue freed and, like Zechariah speak praises to God. Proclaim the words of promise, the words of favor, the words of salvation that you have longed to speak but have been unable to voice. Jesus our light is dawning. The darkness of sin has abated by his shed blood. Even now the Holy Spirit has filled his people and will “guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And All God’s People Said…

[1] Monica Coleman, Pregnant Waiting: Reflections on Advent,