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"Advent: “God’s Peace Campaign”"

It is hard during December when those candles are drowned out by all the Christmas tree lights; when the stories seem to be from a long time ago in a place far away; when we are in too great a rush to wait and too busy to show patience – distracted and exhausted!

“The Flight to Egypt” by Sliman Mansour
“The Flight to Egypt” by Sliman Mansour

Luke 1:5-25

June 25, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright How do we tell the story of Advent? A few candles to mark growing hope in the darkness? A few stories worn smooth with the retelling? A few songs to give voice to the faithful’s painful waiting and hopeful patience? It is hard during December when those candles are drowned out by all the Christmas tree lights; when the stories seem to be from a long time ago in a place far away; when we are in too great a rush to wait and too busy to show patience – distracted and exhausted! How are we to get a true sense of Advent? What if we took the time now?

 

“How God entered the world matters. Where and when God chose to come into the world carries significance. Advent is not about one season of devotion; rather the advent narratives orient us toward a lifetime of faithfulness to the God of liberation, love, and peace.”[2] That’s how Kelley Nikondeha introduces us to the focus of her book The First Advent in Palestine. So we are going to spend the next few weeks looking at the how and where and when of the first Advent … and we are going to start with the story of Zechariah. His is not the first name that comes to mind when you think of Advent, but his story is key! He represents Israel’s yearning for God to intervene to bring freedom and justice. He and Elizabeth exemplify those trying to remain faithful despite difficult circumstances. He is one of the righteous who cries out for a deliverance only God can bring. So, let’s dig into his story.

 

Nikondeha writes, “In his priestly role, Zechariah served his village [in the hill country] most days by teaching the [scriptures]. He offered counsel and comfort. But he also needed to find other work to supplement the small stipend he received from the temple. He likely farmed – planting, pruning. harvesting, and even laboring at the threshing floor and olive press in hard years. His aging body probably struggled to work enough to earn enough. A son’s help would have been a blessing in this unforgiving landscape.”[3] She continues, “Maybe as he prayed [during his yearly duty in Jerusalem,] he saw the faces of workers and widows, the figs that the farmers could not afford to eat left half-eaten on the high priest’s plate. Maybe he saw sons looking for work in the north, and the downcast fathers who stayed home. Or perhaps the meals he and Elizabeth fasted from to provide for the family next door. ‘Don’t you see us? How long will we be at the mercy of Rome and Herod and the elites that collude with them?’ you can hear him cry.”[4] And then, as he was praying, Luke says Gabriel appeared. God has decided this is the time to step into history; to answer prayers; to bring a peace the Empire cannot.

 

It is an echo of the story of Abraham and Sarah. It is a preview of the story of Mary and Joseph. It is a promise to everyone of every time that there is nothing that is impossible with God! Still, “when Zechariah left Jerusalem, the resident priests didn’t know the content of the angel’s announcement,” writes Nikondeha. “They couldn’t decipher an old man’s sign language performed with calloused hands stained by the olives of another harvest.”[5] But we know. God was birthing transformation and the hinge was a couple who were both getting on in years: “An ordinary priest standing between the haves and the have-nots, between the empire’s beneficiaries and its victims …” [and] “a barren woman who’d given up on the dream of a child and then understood that God [was] creating a whole new peace … [that] would begin not on a battlefield, but on a birthing stool.”[6] If you strip away the candles and the lights and the songs, Advent is the story of God’s peace campaign. Luke reminds us of how it begins, where it begins, when it begins. But that is only the start – there are more stories to tell. We’ll continue in two weeks. Amen

[1] “The Flight to Egypt” by Sliman Mansour [2] From page 5 [3] Page 28-29 [4] From page 33 [5] From page 38 [6] Also from page 38
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