Monday, December 19, 2016

Tender Compassion

Luke 1: 68-79
Advent 4

Zachariah was the father of John the Baptist.
He was a priest in the temple
and according to Luke, Gabriel visited him first,
months before he went to visit Mary,
to let him know that his wife Elizabeth would be pregnant
with John the Baptist who would be the messenger
Image result for luke 1:68-79 clip artto prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus the Messiah.

But Zechariah didn’t give a very positive
response to the good news of great joy.
He said that he was really busy at the temple,
and his wife Elizabeth was too old anyway.
Now, we don’t know if too old in his mind was 35 or 75,
it really doesn’t say, and I guess it doesn’t matter.

Regardless, Gabriel got upset at Zechariah’s negativity
and he didn’t want this silly priest
ruining his plans right at the beginning,
so Gabriel basically told Zechariah shut up and just to make it clear,
he made him unable to speak
for the next 9 months until the baby was born.

Now, it’s possible that Gabriel overreacted at that moment.
But later, he wisely decided that he had better make
these amazing announcements to the women first,
because they could deal with surprises better,
and so he went directly to Mary with the next announcement
which went much better.

And when Elizabeth’s baby was born it was obvious that
Zechariah finally believed in the message that Gabriel told him
because he ordered the baby to be called John
just as Gabriel had instructed him in the first meeting.

And that seems to have lifted the temporary muteness from Zechariah,
and he is moved by the Spirit to sing one of those
beautiful songs that Luke’s gospel keeps giving us.

Zechariah’s song is another song of desire,
hoping and trusting in God’s mercy for all.
If you read this song closely, and break it down,
Basically Zechariah, has one hope for the
mighty Savior but it’s pretty big:
deliver the people from the hands of their enemies,
from those that would want to do them harm,
so they could be free to worship God without fear
for the rest of their lives.

As I was thinking about this,
I realized that Zechariah’s hope is true for me.
Contrary to the sense of dread and panic
 that the news media tries to fill us with every day,
I realistically can rely on my safety, and I can’t think
of a personal enemy who would want to do me harm.
and right now, I can come in here on a Sunday morning,
and worship God in the way I want without fear.

So Zechariah’s prophecy has come through for me
And most of you, I would imagine are in the same boat,
you are relatively safe from your enemies,
and if you’re here, you’re free to worship as you want.

But for some reason,
that just doesn’t seem like enough.
Because as followers of Jesus it’s
not enough that we have good things,
our hope is for all people, not just ourselves.

So we might be reasonably free from
those who would do us harm,
but we know there are people who are not,
there are those who live in fear,
There are those who live in countries around the world,
who fear pain and violence and other repercussions every day.

Our hearts break when we see pictures and video
from Aleppo Syria, and the destruction and killing there.
And who are their enemies? Their own government,
or another country or something else? it’s hard to know.
But there seems to be nowhere for them to hide.

And even in our own country,
there are those in our midst who suffer from
spousal abuse and child abuse.

And many people of color in this country are afraid
of getting stopped  by the police because of what
they have seen happen to others before.

So we may be safe and protected,
but that just isn’t enough,
our hope and desire is for others to be safe too.

And we may be able to worship as we wish
but there are Christians in Afghanistan, Iraq,
Pakistan, North Korea, Nigeria
and many other countries who cannot.

And there are those of other faiths who cannot
worship God in their own ways.
In some European countries,
Muslims are targets and headscarves
and other religious practices are banned.

And here in our own country,
Mosques, and Synagogues, and Hindu Temples
are regular targets for vandalism and violence.
And there are many, even here, who feel threatened
for worshiping God in their own ways.

And so we pray and we hope and we wait,
not just for God to act on our behalf, but for everyone.
This is the yearning that Christ has put in our heart,
and in Zechariah’s heart.

It’s like if we have a full meal and someone
next to us at the table has nothing to eat,
Could we just enjoy what we have and forget about it?
or would we feel the need to share it?
Of course, we wouldn’t be happy unless we shared it.
That’s what Jesus asks of us.
Not just hope for our own, but for others too.

Compassion. That is the light that Christ puts in our hearts.
That is the light to those who sit in
darkness and the shadow of death.
And compassion is the way to peace too.

There is a prayer that we say in our justice ministry:
“For those who are hungry give bread,
and those who have bread give a hunger for justice.”

For those who have had a taste of God’s kingdom on earth,
we yearn to share that with others.

And as Zechariah predicted, and we know the promise to be true,
One day, “In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high the dawn from on high

will break upon us. All of us

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