Monday, December 21, 2015

Something is stirring: 4th Sunday of Advent 2015

Micah 5:2-5a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:13-20

"Each of us is an innkeeper who will decide if there is room for those who bring Good News.”  Neal A. Maxwell

One of the greatest joys of Advent for many is the excitement of the season leading up to Christmas.  Ironically, that very sentiment is one of the biggest disappointments of the season because Christmas Day itself is almost anti-climactic.  We’ve been building up to that glorious Day actually since long before Advent began. 

Too many will have spent money they didn’t really have for stuff they didn’t really need.  Yet in spite of spending in excess of $600 billion (with a B) in 2014 and likely as much in 2015, there will still be many disappointed children – and some adults – because all that was built up in their minds did not come to fruition. 

If we really think about it, it is just not possible to live up to all the commercial hype.  Consequently December 26 will be a day pretty much like all the others.  Nothing will have changed.  Of course we can always hope “others” may have received a blessing and maybe a life-changing epiphany, but the chances are the day after Christmas will be for them what it will be for us – just another Saturday.

The Letter to the Hebrews attests to essentially the same thing in our mortal lives.  In the beginning of chapter 10 it is written: “The Law is a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the real things themselves.”   Now it is important when reading any commentary about “The Law”, even in the epistles themselves, that we bear in mind what our Lord spoke about “The Law” itself: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill; for assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled”  (Matthew 5:17-18).

So since heaven and earth are still intact, nothing has changed even there.  Yet we are still in the “shadow of good things that are coming” because although Messiah has come to make propitiation for the past sins of all who repent, there is still something ahead of us.  As stated previously, it is the Day of The Lord.  The Day His people await and should always be preparing for, The Day evil dreads. 

This is The Day in which the Divine Order will be restored.  Wrongs will be made right.  The hungry will be filled.  The poor shall be rich, and the very fruits of evil will become what every toy, every electronic gizmo, every new dress, every new shirt received for Christmas will become: nothing.

Every Advent season is a new opportunity to draw closer to The Day of The Lord in a meaningful way, and every Advent season is eventually squandered away to the commercial trappings that produce limited joy for a very limited time – but never contentment.  This is so for this very reason: every gizmo, every toy, every new dress, every new shirt will break or tear or be ruined or become obsolete in some way.  All the hopes we put into these things will be as the Titanic against the iceberg: sunk.

All this holiday noise betrays something much greater.  The excitement of anticipation drowns out the silence which is necessary to the fulfillment of what is foreshadowed.  The reason Advent produces nothing new is because it is the same ol’ grind year after year – only louder and more obscene than the year before.

So let’s look a little more closely at Zechariah.  On the surface it appears Zechariah was being punished for his unbelief.  In the NRSV Gabriel does say, “Because you did not believe my words …” (vs 20a)  But what if Gabriel could see in Zechariah’s world something so out of order, something perhaps so chaotic, that in order for Zechariah to fully appreciate “the shadow of what is to come”, a little silence might be more in order as a gift than as the punishment it appears to be.

Luke’s Gospel presents Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth as “righteous before The Lord, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of The Lord” (vs 6).  It would be hard, then, to suppose Zechariah had this coming to him as punitive.  This would make The Lord seem somewhat arbitrary and vindictive to so strike a “righteous and blameless” man, a priest devoted to his duties.

Zechariah’s “offense” is not unlike Mary’s own question.  Zechariah said, “How will I know?”, and Mary said, “How can this be?”  Given that Mary was doing little more than tending Joseph’s home and Zechariah was busy with his priestly duties that surely involved a lot of praying, it would seem Mary would have more time to contemplate what was to come whereas Zechariah could get a little too caught up in “busy” work.  Important work, to be sure, but busy.

We know we are sometimes a little too busy for our own good.  Prayer has become for the collective Church optional or downright inconvenient – or at the very least, incidental to all else that is going on especially during this time of year.  Considering that Advent is much more than a mere “countdown” to Christmas but is intended to prepare our hearts and minds and souls for the RETURN of our Lord, prayer should be foremost.

Sometimes even our important church work is overshadowed or even overwhelmed by the busy-ness of what we choose to do when it may be more important for us to slow down, “be still”, and more fully appreciate what the Scripture and the Spirit are telling us.  If we are “busy”, however, it is very likely we will miss something altogether much more important than what we would choose to engage in – important though it may seem.  For the Church cannot be the Body of Christ in the world if Christ Himself becomes incidental to what we choose to do first what pleases us.

There are countless reasons why the adage, “Silence is golden”, should be intentionally embraced – especially in prayer.  How can we possibly know what The Lord has to say to us – to His Church – if we do all the talking?  How can we know that what we are busy doing will be pleasing to The Lord if we never give The Lord a chance to tell us what to do?  That whatever we may choose to do feels right or seems right does not make it right in the eyes of The Lord. 

Zechariah “had it coming”, of course, but not in the way you and I may think.  What he “had coming” came to him as a remarkable present, an extraordinary gift to a man who was “righteous and blameless” before The Lord.  It is the very gift you and I would do well to anticipate, expect, and even pray for. 

The work we would choose to do in the Name of The Lord will always be important, of course, but it can never be more important than what The Lord may have to say.  Something is indeed “stirring”.  And if we do not learn to slow down, sit down, and quiet down, it is very likely it will pass right by us.  Let the people of the Church say, “Amen”.  

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