2 Advent C—12/6/15
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Pr. Scott Kramer
(Star Wars theme music)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John…son of Zechariah…in the wilderness.
Many of us long have been anticipating next week’s release of The Force Awakens, the first of the final three installments of the Star Wars series. Some of us have been waiting for this since 1977, when the first Star Wars film was released!
The appeal of Star Wars is obvious. It’s the timeless struggle of good vs. evil. It’s the story of an underdog overcoming the odds to defeat far more powerful forces. In today’s reading Luke seems to set the stage for just such a confrontation. Leading up to the birth of Jesus the powers of the world are on full display, as they are in our own day, and we—like the fearful and anxious audience that Luke was writing for –are invited to choose who we will follow. Who will increase our sense of power, self-esteem, well-being and financial security?
But the word of God came to John…son of Zechariah…in the wilderness! Which is to say, God’s word came to a nobody…in the middle of nowhere.
An article appeared in this past week’s Seattle Times titled, “Voters Search for a President Who Will Make Them Feel Safe.” The article made the case for why candidates who show what they describe as “gutsiness and a take-charge resolve” are so popular in this campaign season. Anxious, fearful people are eager to hitch their wagon to a bright-shining star.
Our culture is full of stars: Movie stars, rock stars, pop stars, sports stars, Dancing With the Stars, and yes, political stars. We go to the movie theater and cheer for the underdog, but in real life–when push comes to shove–we choose displays of power. We want a sure thing: someone who will make us feel safe, increase our wealth, and maybe above all who will promise not to make us give up much, if anything, in return.
But the word of God came to John…son of Zechariah. Not to Caesar or Trump, not to Clinton or Herod, not to Pilate or Carson, not to Philip or Cruz, not to Lysanias or Sanders, or anyone else. To John…son of Zechariah. And the word of God came not to Washington, DC, or New York, or Moscow, or London, or Beijing, or Paris, or Seattle…or even Jerusalem. The word God came to John…in the wilderness.
Dear friends, we are not here this morning or any Sunday to celebrate superpowers, or superstars, because they are powerless to give us peace. I suspect the best evidence of that is your own heart. How is with your soul? Do you have some experience of a deep and lasting inner peace, what St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians calls the “peace that passes understanding.” Or, is that space inside filled most of the time with worry, fear, sorrow, guilt, anger?
We become so accustomed to what we experience that we think of it as normal. Or, at least we fail to imagine an alternative.
But God sets before us alternatives. Zechariah, for example. Imagine being an old man who learns that he is about to become a father. Imagine not being able to speak for at least nine months. Imagine as the man of the house in a traditional culture being told, “You’re not in charge.” In other words, imagine late in life having your world turned upside down. Maybe some among us can imagine that.
But, in the middle of having your world turned upside down, in response to all that, imagine singing a song of joy. That’s what Zechariah does. His song of joy and praise is our psalm for today: Blessed are you, Lord, the God of Israel. You have come to your people and set them free…free to worship you without fear, holy and righteous before you, all the days of our life.
Now, understand that nothing in Zechariah’s world has changed. Israel is still occupied, Rome is still in charge and will be for centuries–and yet here is man who proclaims freedom. The freedom that Zechariah proclaims is a peace that passes understanding, a peace—if you can imagine–that doesn’t depend on personal or political circumstances.
Our second reading for today is sometimes described as a love letter. It’s St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…How I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more… Does this sound to you like a man in prison—a man with few personal freedoms, no money in the bank, facing death? Would you expect from such a person a song of joy? Like old Zechariah, St. Paul does not rely on personal or political circumstances. Here is a man in prison who is truly free!
What does it mean to be “truly free?” In this Advent season we’re reminded that it depends on which star we choose to follow.
Last Tuesday, as you may recall, the local churches of REACH gathered right here in your fellowship hall. This month’s speaker happened to be Dr. Joy Carey Sanaa. Dr. Sanaa is a Muslim woman, who shared with us a bit of what it is like to be a Muslim woman. It is hard, she said, to be a Muslim in America. Every time she travels, for example, she is taken out of the line at the airport for questioning and an extra search. She is listed in government files as a Muslim so whether or not she is wearing her religious scarf she is suspect.
What an amazing, humbling and beautiful thing, she said, that you Christians have invited me to be here today. And by the end of her message she said, Won’t you consider holding one of your REACH meetings next year…in our mosque?
The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah…in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit tends to show up in the most unexpected people at the most unexpected times in the most unexpected places—sometimes, even in the basement of a little church in South King County whose mission it is to welcome the stranger. When disciples of Jesus risk welcoming the stranger, as the Scriptures show, there’s a good chance that God will show up.
How did you respond to the gun tragedy involving Muslims in California this past week? How did you feel? Angry, sad, indifferent, helpless, numb? Where does your heart go? Do we need more handguns? Greater border security? Restrictions on immigrants? Were you riveted to the news, and what did that do to your body, your mind, your spirit? Those who heard Dr. Sanaa in your fellowship hall on Tuesday were likely much better prepared for the tragedy on Wednesday because the word of God came not to Caesar or Herod or cable TV or headline news. A word of peace came unexpectedly in the wilderness of unincorporated King County through the personal story of an ordinary woman…like us.
You and I on our own have little power over political stars, Wall Street stars, and events that play out on the stage of history. What we do have is the Star of Bethlehem that shines on ordinary men and women in unexpected and extraordinary ways. Our hope is not in armies, presidents and politicians, but in the Prince of Peace!