68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty saviorfor us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.71 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break uponus, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene,2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
How do we receive messages these days? What are some examples of messengers?
As I read these passages in Luke, the word messenger came out loud and clear.
There are stories of messengers throughout history, especially when they bring good news. However, things may not turn out great for those messengers.
One of the most famous messengers was the Greek courier, Philippides. There was a great battle between the Persians and the Greeks. Philippides had run a message to the Spartans for help with the Athenians. He ran for a couple of days apparently. His last run was from the city of Marathon to Athens. When he arrived at Athens, the Greeks were eager to hear the outcome of the battle, Philippides had good news and exclaimed, “Joy! We won.”, then legend has it, he fell over and died.
Not a great ending, but that is where we got the name for Marathon races. And, I love them, and feel like dying at the end of one…only to get excited about running another one!
But, Philippides did have good news to share and ran long, hard, and with much pain to share it.
Our gospel lesson this morning is all about a messenger who has come to share truly good news.
Our first passage in Luke comes right after Mary’s song where she talks in beautiful ways about God’s promise of a Savior, of the Messiah, the deliverer coming to the world through her. A song where she reminds us that God does keep God’s promises.
In our text, it is Zechariah’s turn to give us a song. Zechariah is high priest and he and his wife Elizabeth were well past their years for childbirth. When Zechariah heard that he was finally going to be a dad, he didn’t believe it…so, the angel delivering the news said that he wouldn’t be able to talk because of his stubbornness in not believing. It says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.
In the Old Testament, when someone is said to be filled with the Spirit, that means, sit up, wake up, and listen. Zachariah has a lot of respect, he’s older, he had gone through a lot in life, he had given up on being a dad, yet through it all, he was faithful. He may have been shut up by God for a time, but I think even that was a gift from God. God was not through with Zachariah, even though he had lived a long life, God was saying to him, YOU, even in your advanced age, have a purpose that will change the world! Zachariah had time to sit, be still, and listen to the rhythm’s of his heart and hear God’s whisper in his life.
He was ready to share. When his mouth was loosened, praise and wisdom followed. As well as reminders. Zachariah tells us that God is powerful by using the symbol of a horn. In antiquity, the horn was a symbol of power. It made a loud noise and help, or deliverance, would follow. If you had a horn, you had powerful friends. God was bringing salvation, was making things right.
Zachariah is also sharing that God has made a covenant with humanity. That God would rescue us, would show mercy, and that our hope is coming.
He then says that his son, John, will be the messenger. That John would come and prepare the way…and would shine a light for those living in darkness and guide us towards peace. John would bring good news of God’s entering humanity, of restoring right relationships, God would keep his covenant and make God’s loyalty and love to humanity known through John’s cousin, Jesus. God was not only living in community with us through Spirit, but would also physically live with us. The uncreated entering creation.
Humanity often lives in darkness, we bump about not knowing where we are going. We break things, cause damage to ourselves and others, even destroy one another. Yet, God says that we were created for so much more, for mercy, forgiveness, and for relationship. And, to serve others and God without fear as it says in verse 74.
Jesus would guide us towards the way of peaceful living with one another.
And, John does just that. In our second Luke passage, John speaks to the crowds who come to him, some curious, some ready to change, all wanting something more. John rails against the religious, political, and social structures of the day. It’s no accident that Luke mentions the year, and the different leaders of the day. Luke is reminding his readers the setting in which John gives his message. John is standing in the public arena calling all towards repentance, to change towards a new life signified in baptism…the old life is gone, a new life has come.
John is one crying in the wilderness, reminding his readers of the wilderness that they were in when they left Egypt…it seemed like it may take a while, they wandered around, but in God’s time, they were delivered out of the wilderness and into something more.
Not all may have experienced this…some died in the wilderness. But, we have to realize that God is committed to the whole picture, all of humanity. With God, no one is lost, even if they are on different parts of the Journey. John is telling us that Jesus is coming to us now to show us and remind us that the Kingdom of God, of heaven, God’s Presence is here, now, and will be with us forever.
Friends, just like the marathon runner, we may be tired, we may be worn out, we may want to give up. But, we’ve got good news, we have a God who is calling us to live differently, to change, to repent and live in forgiveness of our stuff and the stuff of others, to let go of the past and live into a new future even as we practice a new Presence, and to have peace…real peace. Peace in scripture is not the absence of conflict, but a deeper sense of faith that we can live into. We may not know the future, we may have a lot of uncertainty, but we also are all connected to one another and a divine flow of God’s love that calls us into. Friends, we are never too old, we never have it all figured out, but if we are willing to submit to one another and to God, just as God demonstrated through Jesus, we can come out of the wilderness and into the promise, the hope of salvation and into the abundance of life that God promises!
Now, it’s one thing to say this, to talk about peace and presence in the midst of so much dissonance and change, another to experience it. But, I can personally attest to his, I have experienced this, along with others in this room this morning, in conversations with friends from this church and in the neighborhood and throughout the city…
As we come to this table today, we are reminded of God’s abundance as we are called to this table together…look around you as we come forward, look at each other in a new and wonderful way, put the old behind…and also, look inside of you, God is doing something in each of us…something new. After communion, as you leave, look at others that you see or meet in a new way as well, the promises of God are being fleshed out all around us!