Sermon, June 27, 2021 Nativity of St. John the Baptist Malachi 3:1-4, Ps 141, Acts 13:13-26, Luke 1: 57-80
Dear Fellow Ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Grace and Peace to you from God our Creator and from the Holy Spirit our Sustainer and Guide. Amen
When John the Baptist was born, his father, Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, sang a hymn of praise to God, that ended with these words:
“You my 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 The Good news for today is that God promises
Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist
The Nativity of John the Baptist is June 24, exactly 6 months before the nativity of Jesus Christ on December 24. BECAUSE, John the Baptist said
I must decrease that he might increase, and so our Church elders attached
the births of Jesus and John to the winter and summer solstice— Christ as the light of the world is tethered to lengthening days, just as John is
tethered to the day light diminishing. It is an elegant way to join the story of faith to the creation.
We usually glimpse the adult John the Baptist briefly in Advent, and then again when Jesus is Baptized. He lives in the wilderness, wears camel hair, and eats locusts and wild honey. He is a saint I love, because he teaches us to Point to Christ.
I also love John’s father, Zachariah. Zachariah was a priest, he was of that tribe, and on his regular rotation serving at the temple, they drew lots, and it was his turn to burn incense, in the Holy Place, separated from the Holy of Holies by a curtain.
Jewish women, a few steps up and a wall to the 3. courtyard of Israel— or the Jewish men—and then 4. the court of the priests where the sacrifices and offerings took place. Zachariah knew the temple. He knew the sacred spaces. He went to burn the incense— and Gabriel, the angel of the Lord appeared— to announce that Elizabeth would bear a child. They were past child bearing age. Zachariah was skeptical. As one commentator wrote, Gabriel took out his Angelic clicker, pointed it at Zachariah, and Zachariah was mute! Until 8 days after the babies birth.
I get great satisfaction from this story, because I have been around one or two chatty preachers, and others, who are so enamored by the
sound of their own voice! Some silence can do most of us a world of good. Zachariah was silent for at least 10 months! What did he learn? How did he change? What was that like?
We have been separated from many of the people we know and love for 16 months. What have we learned? How have we been changed? What has it been like?
Packard Children’s hospital at Stanford. I last was in the same room with her, in December 2019. We talked about how challenging it has been to put words to this pandemic year. She shared that a friend of hers when they were reunited, said, “I didn’t know if I would ever see you again, as in see you alive again.” Most of us didn’t dare say that out loud. It was too scary to think about who we might lose. And our hearts are broken every time we think of the hundreds of thousands who lost a loved one and did not get to say goodbye. As well as those who died alone.
Friends, this is what it means to me to be sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Another conversation with an educator this week led me to Google Trauma informed pedagogy— that means, how do we teach and learn when we have been through overwhelming events?
Safety is primary. Trustworthiness and Transparency, peer support, Collaboration, empowerment, and taking into account cultural, historical, and gender issues. It’s HUGE.
There will be some awkward moments. Expect them. And we will figure it out.
I am struck that Pastor Mark and I have had very different pandemic worship experiences. He is so steadfast and dependable. He keeps showing up here on Sunday morning with Allison and Deacon Susan, and the sound and video crew. For the first year, I watched in my pajamas the live stream from home, and then visited 2 or 3 more worship services— some local, some national. Online, I could come and go, kind of dip in and and multitask, and all sorts of things…
I imagine a few of you did as well, so we might need some practice to lengthen our attention span..eh? Not sure, just guessing.
I have also had several conversations with people who say, I am not sure I want to go back to the way things were before— I want to do a new thing, or I want to stay home awhile longer, or I want to stay home.
I thought we were nearly through this pandemic, and I realized 10 days ago that we actually have several more important steps, to go. There is a great deal of unresolved grief in our lives and our communities.
Zachariah had to LISTEN didn’t he. He had to observe. Pay
Attention. Ponder, Pray, witness, care, reflect. Let us remember that and commit ourselves to the same practices. Listen, observe, pay attention, ponder pray witness care reflect.
How does Zechariah go from being skeptical and silent to being filled with the Holy Spirit and Praising God? What can we learn from Zachariah? What does The Holy Spirit promise us— those of us sitting in darkness and the shadow of death?
Zachariah and the Holy Spirit promise us that the covenant promises of God still hold- even when they were oppressed by Rome, even when the temple was destroyed.
God is the one who brings resurrection from death. Where we see only endings, God can bring us a new day, God’s day, that brings with it’s dawn, light and hope, and a pathway to Peace.