Luke begins his gospel with a priest named Zechariah, and his wife, named Elizabeth. They are a devoutly religious couple going about their everyday life. Childless in a culture that mocks such a thing, they are well past childbearing age. Today is Zechariah’s turn to come into Jerusalem and perform the Temple-liturgy. Since he and Elizabeth lived outside of Jerusalem, Zechariah will stay in one of the hotel lodges in the Temple precinct, and then return home to continue his work of teaching and leading in the community. Or at least so he thought.
The angel reveals to Zechariah God’s unfolding plan. Part of it involves them becoming parents of John, who we will come to know as “the baptizer.” Luke tells us Zechariah’s response and it sounds a lot less like a hero of the faith and more like you and me: “Can God really do the impossible? How can I know this be true?”
After 400 years of silence, the people of Israel had forgotten about God’s peace and bought into a vision of the world that convinced them God was no longer open to new possibilities. Oh, they would have never said such a thing with their lips but they were whispering it with their lives. They all responded like Zechariah, singing the same refrain from the same song the people of God have been lamenting for 400 years: “Can God really do the impossible? How can we know this to be true?”
We should not blame them. Something was wrong in their world. Herod was not the king God promised, that is clear. Wicked foreigners have come from far away with hatred in their eyes and weapons in their hands. Darkness and death are swallowing their land. People are suffering. Their people are suffering.
God’s people, people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, had forgotten about the possibility of peace. And when you forget about peace it is because you have forgotten God’s promises. And when you forget God’s promises, you’re left with having to figure it out on your own.
Some things never change, I suppose. Today it seems that we have forgotten about God’s peace. Like the devoutly religious Zechariah we are tempted to believe the vision of the world cast for us by society where we ask, “Can God really do the impossible? How can I know this to be true?”
Something is still wrong with our world. People are still suffering. Society tells us that if we are to eliminate the suffering or feel safe and secure, then it is up to us to make it happen, and we must use any means necessary. They tell us that if we want to have the ‘good life’ we must attain upward mobility and accumulate greater wealth. They tell us that we will find comfort in these things. But there is no comfort. The path of upward mobility is hard. The accumulation of wealth seems illusive. And it doesn’t feel any safer or more secure from the last time we tried to make it happen by using every means at our disposal.
So we tighten our grip on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a kingdom that will, like all other kingdoms of the past, one day be a footnote in the pages of history. We dig in our heels with great resolve motivated by an anxiety-producing fear that turns the Christ’s crown of thorns into barb-wire fences to keep us safe and secure from those we consider threats to our well-being.
Well, eventually Zechariah believed the good news of Advent. In his song he prophesied that Christ would, “shine light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and guide our feet to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:79)
The Lordship of the Christ-child is our peace, and our restoration His promise. Christ the King has come and the light has dawned to scatter the darkness and the shadow of death. But will we allow the light of Christ to guide us to the path of peace? What if the path of peace is not what we think? What if the light that guides us to the path of peace shines upon the practices of hospitality, generosity and forgiveness?
The light of Christ reveals that when the strangers and the marginalized are welcomed and embraced, the path of peace is found. The light of Christ reveals that when we are finally convinced that giving is more blessed than receiving, the path of peace is found. The light of Christ reveals that when wrongs and betrayals are forgiven, and enemies are loved and persecutors are blessed, the path of peace is found.
Oh, but the path is riddled with distractions and seductions. Scattered along the path is the temptation to pursuit other things we believe can bring us peace, like upward mobility, greater wealth, national security, the ability to control life or manage outcomes. Scattered along the path are fears and anxiety that comes from a stark realization that we really cannot control life or manage outcomes after all, especially when we watch the evening news or read the headlines that speak of terror and violence.
And so the story goes that we will be tempted to tighten our grip on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a kingdom that will, like all other kingdoms of the past, one day be a footnote in the pages of history.
But the good news is that that Advent proposes to us the King of kings who invites us to a kingdom that will never falter, flounder or fail. He will guide our feet to the path of peace, if we will trust Him.
And so the story goes that we will be tempted to dig in our heels with great resolve motivated by an anxiety-producing fear that turns the Christ’s crown of thorns into barb-wire fences to keep us safe and secure from those who threaten our well-being.
But the good news is that Advent proposes to us Emmanuel, God with us, and He reminds us that His ever-present Kingship and the eternal life He brings is our well-being. Advent proposes to us the Wonderful Counselor who teaches us the way of hope and love. Advent proposes to us the Redeemer who reminds us that no one is ever beyond redemption. Advent proposes to us the Eternal Father who shows us that all people are made in God’s image and that we are loved far more than we can ever imagine. Advent proposes to us the Prince of Peace who invites us to become instruments of peace where, when we practice hospitality, generosity and forgiveness, we find the meaning of our identity as sons and daughters of God.
Something is still wrong in our world. Wicked people come from the most unexpected places far and near, with hatred in their eyes and weapons in their hands. It still feels like darkness and death is swallowing our world.
But Christ has come.
If we will trust Him, if we will believe that He is able to do the impossible, He will guide our feet to the path of peace. Hospitality, generosity and forgiveness reveal the way.
Come, Holy Spirit come, may you open the eyes of heart that we would know the depths of our Father’s love, and find the courage to trust Jesus Christ the Lord, our Prince of Peace.