Zechariah Meet Bueller

Sermon by Rev. Trip Porch
November 30, 2014

Psalm 63:1-8
Luke 1:5-24

The summer before my junior of high school I watched the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” almost everyday. You might have said I was obsessed with it, in fact I am pretty sure my sisters told me that often but you know how everyone has that one movie that you put on if nothing else is on or if nothing else was happening, that movie was Ferris Bueller for me.

I don’t think I loved it because it was particularly entertaining, its not a movie with fantastic acting, or a moving plot. In hindsight I think I loved it because it resonated with some deep part of me.

If you speak to any high schooler getting ready for their junior year, I think you’ll find that they aren’t just preparing for the next year of their education.

Junior year is the year that you start to take college entrance exams, that you start to to tour colleges, the year everyone asks you about what you are interested in studying, or about what you plan on being when you grow up.

This is the time of your life where it feels like you are actually preparing for the rest of your life. And because of that …its a time where every decision you make feels like it has weight to it, a time where all of your plans begin to feel final.

It is a time where you feel like you can easily summarize the rest of your life… I’ll get this grade on my SAT which means I’ll go to this school and study this, I’ll graduate and start work at this job, where I’ll meet and fall in love with this person, and before you know it I’ll be writing my out will for grandkids.

And, it was in the midst of this rushed, fearful, and anxiety filled part of my life that I discovered “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” A movie about a teenager who puts off his responsibilities of school and uses his last sick day of high school to play hooky and have these epic adventures with his friends throughout the day.

Anyway, I am not condoning Ferris’ truancy, but I am bringing it up because there is a quote in the first scene of the movie that describes why this movie spoke to me so deeply at that time. In fact this quote ended up becoming my mantra for the next two years of high school. Anytime I felt overwhelmed at being so forward thinking, and felt like high school would be over before I knew it, I’d remember what Ferris said.

It comes right after Ferris has just convinced his parents to let him stay home and he starts to get ready for his day. He looks at the camera and says these words of wisdom:

Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it

Over the next years of high school, This quote would come to mind reminding me to take time to enjoy exactly who I was and where I was in that moment. It kept me from rushing to the end of something, and helped me appreciate the now.

I think this idea is something that the author of Luke had in mind when writing his account of Jesus’ life. Our story today comes from the first lines of the first chapter of his whole story.

Fred Craddock

I read through a commentary on these verses by New Testament scholar, and story telling preacher, Fred Craddock. I love the way he describes what Luke is doing in these first verses, how he is setting up his whole gospel, he says this:

[In these first few lines] It’s evident that Luke wants the reader not to move too swiftly through the narrative.

[Look at] Luke’s restraint: eighty verses in chapter 1 and the child is not yet born. First there must be visions and visiting angels: mothers-to-be must wonder and talk and sing; history must roll to a particular moment when Caesar Augustus will put Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.

Hence Luke’s poetry. Poetry slows down our thought and invites participation in the experience being created. (Craddock, Fred B. Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990. 23. Print.)

Luke’s writing draws us in, it makes us want to keep reading on through this story and linger over each detail and character.

And I think this is very intentional on Luke’s part. Luke doesn’t want us to flip to the end of the story, He doesn’t want us to rush to the cross, or even to Christ’s Birth. Luke wants us to take time to realize the gravity of what God did in Jesus. He wants us to realize we can’t understand it in one sitting, we need to come back to it, and give it time. And I think nothing illustrates this point more than the first story he tells in the story of Jesus. This tale of Zechariah hearing God’s plan to give him a Son who will prepare the earth for the Lord, and then having to be silent about it.

Zechariah is a priest and he is married to an affluent woman named Elizabeth. They are both upstanding people, they have a deep faith in God, and have followed God’s teachings closely.

However, Luke gets right to the point and lets us in on a detail that tells us where this story is going. He tells us that they have never had kids, that they had wanted to, they had even prayed about it and asked God for it, but they were never able to, and now because they were both very old, they could no longer get pregnant.
I get the sense that it had been so long that they had kind of lost hope. That they had long ago accepted that it was their fate, that it would just never happen.

One day Zechariah is serving at the temple with the rest of his priestly group. And it comes time for one of their special worship services where one of the priest goes back to the part of the temple that they called the “lord’s sanctuary.”

This was the place in the temple separate from the worshipers where they believed God lived and during this prayer service one of the priests who go back into this holy place and burn incense as an offering to God.

So, They cast lots to figure out who would be that priest. This was something they always did this because they believed it helped them determine who God willed to lead, and this time its Zechariah who draws the biblical equivalent of the short straw.

For Zechariah, this wouldn’t have been an extraordinary thing, this wasn’t a significant moment in his life. He is an old priest, this incense offering was something he did over and over again. It was part of his routine almost like getting up to brush his teeth in the morning.

He gets picked, and without even thinking about it he gets started. He puts on his priestly robe, gathers up the piles of incense needed for the service, gets the ceremonial lighter, walks past the groups of people gathered for worship, and he enters the Lord’s sanctuary the holiest of holy places to do what was for him a very ordinary task.

It’s at this point that I like to imagine Zechariah entering a very plain room, maybe with some ornate altar that is covered in ash, maybe he’s whistling a tune or something, carrying so much incense and firewood that he can barely see in front of him.

He walks up to the alter, bends over to put down the incense and in this room where no other person is supposed to be… he sees someone’s feet. Startled, he drops all that he’s carrying, and falls back in fear.

The angel is quick to respond, “Don’t be afraid! I’m here with news for you. Your prayers have been heard! You and your wife will have a son and you must name him John, he will mean a lot to you and so many other people, even our Lord. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he’s even born, in fact he will come before the Lord comes, making ready and preparing people for the Lord”

Now I want you to imagine you are Zechariah…
Ordinary day at work, you are in your usual rhythm, and trucking right along, until you are scared to death by a divine messenger.
You can barely grasp the words that are being spoken.
You ears are muffled by your heart beating.

And then you convince yourself that you have lost it, senility has set in and there is no turning back

but then this person you are seeing starts talking to you and is now telling you that despite your age, you are about to have a child.

this is enough to make you shocked and maybe even a bit suspicious
But its not only that, He’s saying the whole purpose of your new child’s life will be to prepare the world for the Lord’s coming.
Oh and by the way, you have to call him John.

Zechariah, is naturally… doubtful. His gray-haired brow is furrowed. He can barely wrap his mind around what is happening, let alone the impossible message he’s just be told.

“Archangel Gabriel struck Zechariah mute” Alexander Ivanov, 1824

And I love how the angel responds.

I am Gabriel

I stand in God’s presence

I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this Good. News.

Know This: what I have spoken will come true in its proper time.

But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent,
unable to speak until the day when these things happen.

“what I’ve spoken will come true in its proper time”
…I couldn’t think of a more appropriate advent message.

Advent is a season of preparation. A season where we try to stop the rush of the world, where we decide to pause, to linger over these stories of ordinary people, in the midst of their ordinary lives preparing for the extraordinary to enter the world through Christ.
It is a season where we too prepare for Christ,
we get ready and watch for how Christ is entering the world now in new and unexpected ways.

For these ordinary people in the bible, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the good news of the Lord coming to their hurt and broken world was not something they just accepted blindly. In each of their stories where they receive the message of Christ’s coming, they each have to take time to think about it, to pray about it, to reflect on it and process it. Just like a parent waiting for a child to come, we have to prepare for Christ to enter the world!

I think this is why Zechariah was made silent. He was after all a priest! We preachers are well known for how much we can talk. And talking was part of his job. He was good at interpreting explaining how God is acting in the world. His job was to use ordinary words to help ordinary people grasp the extraordinary work of God. If the angel left him as he was, he would have just started talking about it and talking about it. Rationalizing what he was told until it was a common message.

Instead God’s messenger makes Zechariah silent.

 

He is unable to interpret this message out loud

unable to rationalize what has happened and what will happen.
He’s just left in silence
Left with what has been spoken
to just digest the impact of it all.
To realize that this message will change his life, Elizabeth’s life
and the life of the world!

The angel tells him about amazing news
“This is what God is up to in the world!!”
and then says:
Now be quiet and think about what I just said.
Don’t rush to conclusions,
Don’t try to hurry this along
be still, and be in the moment,
that is the only what to grasp what God is up to here…


This Advent we have decided to stay with the theme “The fruit we bear” and we are lifting up one of the fruits from the discernment process, the fruit of reflection. We feel that to really be in tune with how God is using us in the world and to understand the Good news God is bringing the world, we need to spend time silence and reflection.

Reflection, like all of the other fruits we’ve talked about is something we have to practice. Its not something that comes naturally to us today. Our still moments feel bored or unproductive. We hurry to fill them with noise and distractions. But reading through the stories of advent, we feel that reflection is what prepared the people for God’s action in Christ’s coming. Think about Zechariah. For him to prepare for what God was doing, he had to be forced into silent reflection.

This advent we will not force you to reflect silently but we want you invite you to do what Ferris Bueller says. Stop and look around. Life is moving pretty fast! If we blinked Advent and Christmas would be over before we even realized it was here.

So choose to pause. Choose to create a time and space for yourself to notice the extraordinary things God is bringing into your ordinary life.
Do it daily, Be still and in silence and don’t rush it.
Start today, at the end of worship, take a deep breath and stay quietly during the postlude.
If you’re commuting to work or school, leave early and take the back roads. Turn off your phone and the radio and spend time with God.
If the first thing you do when you wake up is turn on the news and check your e-mail, stop all that, take a breath and be with God in the silence.

Set aside intentional time to reflect, to be present in the moment and digest how God is acting in your life!

and through all of those still moments in the coming weeks
know this:
the good news that God has spoken,
this vision of hope, and love, and peace
This vision of the Lord’s coming
it will come true at the proper time

Thanks be to God
Amen