A Lullaby For Zechariah's Boy based on Luke 1. 68-79
A Lullaby for Zechariah’s Boy
My father is a retired mathematician. As a child, whenever people would find out what my father did the subsequent statement would be, “Oh you must be good at math?!”. If you are curious to what the answer to this half declarative statement, half question is, the answer is.. “I’m not.” I have struggled with math since late middle school when letters became numbers. Each year from 8th grade through college, my motto in my math classes was: “There is a D in degree for a reason.” I chose to not pursue certain academic endeavors because I don’t want to do math. Today, I wish not talk to you about my passionate dislike for mathematics but, about the weight of family expectations. In every family, the older generation places expectations on the younger generation. Maybe it is a legacy that they hope will be carried on: a certain school or Greek organization -or- itcan be an occupation or business: preacher, doctor, mechanic? A child can come into the word with so many hopes spoken and unspoken placed onto their lives. Such is the case for John the Baptist. I can’t even imagine! My frustration at people’s assumptions that I’d be good at math, don’t compare to the pressures riding on the shoulders of baby John the Baptist. John was the grandson of a priest (his mother Elizabeth was from the line of Aaron- Moses brother and the mouthpiece of the exodus from Egypt to Israel). John wasson of a priest, since he was Zechariah’s boy and if ,that wasn’t enough… John iscousin of Jesus (you know the Savior of theWorld, Jesus).
From the first cry of John the Baptist even before the umbilical chord is cut, there are projections, predictions and prophecies placed on this baby just 6 months older than the baby who will be born in Bethlehem and whose birth will change the world. This passage in Luke, is the lullaby of an elderly father who is charged to answer the question: “Who will this child become?”. It is a daunting and complex question for any father. Every generation hangs on their children, dreams of a better life for their family. But for Zechariah’s boy it is not just family name and reputation. His birth is wrapped up in his father and his communities hopes of the world. To get an understanding of what informs and inspires this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy, we need only to read a few verses before. Hear these words from the Gospel of Luke, as John is going through the rite of circumcision: “When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.”
Our passage this morning is known as the Benedictus. My grandmother always tried to get me to take Latin in high school because I would use it someday… well Gladys Brown was right, here I am using it today. Benedictus is the latin word that literally translates to good speak or to speak well orgood words. The Benedictus of Zechariahis a hymn, a song that was literally sung in early Christian communities. The Benedictus is also a lullaby, a cradle song for both John the Baptist and the Israelite nation. It is a lullaby for a specific time and a specific place- the Jewish people under the rule of Roman Empire and a bedtime song for the only child of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Yet like any good song, like any good lullaby it transcends specific context and speaks through time. Zechariah’s lullaby speaks to us today, to children and adults alike. The wishes and hopes that Zechariah sings to a tiny John the Baptist-wishes for hope, peace, and light are the prayers for us this Advent season as we await the birth of the Messiah: Jesus our Emmanuel in the Christ-child.
Advent is a season of preparation. Our consumer culture will tempt us and trick us into believingthat the way we prepare for Christmas is through spending money- money we don’t always have, for things we don’t always need. We are taught that preparation is about perfection: perfect trees, perfect cookies, perfect presents. Yet in Advent we prepare for the Perfect One, Jehovah Jireh(our Provider) to enter into the imperfection of our lives. The truth of Advent is that we prepare for a Mighty Savior from the line of David. We prepare for salvation and redemption in the person of Jesus Christ. Today on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, we prepare for the new covenant that brings all of us: Gentile and Jew into the family of God through the wails ofa baby in a manger whosewails turn into the wails of man on a cross. Let this lullaby of Zechariah challenge us to get ready, to get prepared for what is to come out of Nazareth and in the stable in Bethlehem. Zechariah’s boy, John the Baptist will prepare the way offering a baptism of repentance and so this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy fittingly allows us to begin preparing for the coming of the Lord. Let us take the time to prepare today and the coming weeks for the world’s redemption, for the Prince of Peace, for the Wonderful Counselor, the Alpha and Omega, for the Messiah- Jesus Christ: Lord and Savior from the house of David.
So, how will we prepare? Zechariah, whose son, John the Baptist will prepare the way as the hype man for Jesus, prepared through a period of silence. When Gabriel first came to Elizabeth, Zechariah did not believe that at their age they could bring a son into the world. Gabriel’s announcement to Elizabeth proclaims that our God moves in miraculous ways by making the aging couple the home that will nurture a prophet who will proclaim forgiveness and who will point beyond himself to Jesus. They will be the parents of a baby who will become a man who speaks my daily prayer- “That I may decrease and He(Jesus) may increase. This prophet, this baby boy will be born from the womb of Elizabeth who unlike Mary the fertile teenager was advanced in years and had made peace that her story would not be the story of being a mother. And it is because of this, their age, their comfort in their own routine that Zechariah finds the word of Gabriel unbelievable, how can it be so that at our ages we would become parents? Like Zechariah, we often struggle to believe in God’s miraculous works that touch our every day lives. As a Christian, this unbelief in the miracles of God is one of the reasons that I enjoy the tradition of Santa Claus becausefor a few weeks every year, we encourage people to believe inmiracles, to believe in something that ultimately points beyond them. While Santa points us toward the North Pole, the birth of John the baptist points us to Jesus and not only to the stable but to the empty tomb.
Sometimes we too like, Zechariah as we age can start to forget that God is always in the business of miracle making and wonder-working. Zechariah doubted that God would bless his family with a baby boy and Zechariah became mute. Can you imagine a preacher who couldn’t talk? Here we have Zechariah -a priest who could not talk for nine months. During this period of preparation, Zechariah joined his wife Elizabeth in getting readyfor the birth of their child. This period of preparation allowed him the gift of time to re-align and restore. In this period of silence, Zechariah was given a chance to think and pray, pray and think. He began re-aligning and reflecting on his relationship with his call to the the priesthood and Israel, and his relationship with Elizabeth, what it might mean for their family to grow. When Zechariah speaks again, it is to give God perpetual praise for God’s grace bestowed on Israel, and God’s grace in and on his son, John. John which in Hebrew means Yahweh gives grace. Zechariah’s boy, Johnwho will proclaim the gospel and whose whole life will point toward Christ. When Zechariah’s mouth is opened again he just can’t stop praising the Lord. The first line of his lullaby is “Bless the Lord of God of Israel for he has looked favorably on his people.” How will we prepare this advent to have hearts and lips that praise Christ? How will we prepare today and these coming weeks so that we may join in the chorus of saints who sing “O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ the Lord”?
Zechariah’s lullaby for John the Baptist, is for the world and it ends with a rallying cry. A cry for peace. “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.” This advent what will it mean for us to be guided in the way of Peace, when one of the first headlines I read this morning was how the President of a Christian university has calledstudents to pick up guns and kill Muslims? We need to sing loudly that our feet be guided in the way of peace when, you read statistics that say that statistically there is a mass shooting every day in the United States. We need to sing the lullaby of Zechariah loudly when we have people who live under the threat of Boko Haram and Isis. Guide our feet in the way of peace, when we have families who only know violence and chaos. Guide our feet in the way of peace, when there arewomen and men who believe that love is shown through bruised ribs and blackened eyes. Guide our feet in the way of peace when we are more tempted to build walls than open up borders to the refugeee, the immigrant, the forgotten. Let this be our lullaby, guide our feet in the ways of peace when we have a disproportionate amount of brown bodies lingering in prison cells for minor felonies and crimes they didn’t commit. This Advent let us join Zechariah in singing his lullaby for his little boy and the word at large and rallying for peace. The way of peace is difficult, it will cause us to rethink our words, our actions, our laws, our politics and proclaim in the midst of violence and fear that there is a God who guides our feet in the ways of Peace, that we celebrate on December 25th the birthof a baby, who will break down the walls of hostility, who will bring together Gentile and Jew, who will forgive and forgive and forgive even when he is killed by those he loved. Let our lullaby, and our prayer be like Zechariah’s and ask that we be guided in the ways of peace.
May this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy be the song that helps us to sleep, reminding us of God’s miraculous power in the word and the redemption that comes in Jesus Christ. May this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy, remind us that in each birth we place the hope of the world, that not only Zechariah’s boy but our children and grandchildren might proclaim the gospel of the Lord. May this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy be our prayer, that we like John the Baptist will always point toward Christ. May this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy compel us to work for peace, to turn swords into plowshares, and sit at tables with our enemies. May this be the song that reminds us of the convent of God with Israel, and through Christ with us.
Listen again to the words of this lullaby for Zechariah’s boy:
“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior[g]
from the royal line of his servant David,
70 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies
and from all who hate us.
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors
by remembering his sacred covenant—
73 the covenant he swore with an oath
to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live.
76 “And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,[h]
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.