Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of December 9, 2018

Sermon: “The Character of Advent: Silence”
Text: Luke 1

Have you ever been so busy talking that you missed something?  Maybe it was a line at the theatre, a moment in a movie or at a particular play at a sporting event.  We’ve all been there, just when you turn to talk to the person next to you, you missed the big moment. 

It happens in nature too.  Have you ever been flat on your back, at night out in nature to watch a meteor shower or look for satellites?  You lay there staring at the night sky and you start thinking about how bored you are or how cold it is or how tired or hungry so you lean over to the person next to you just to hear someone else say, “Oh, there’s one!”  Dang it missed it again!

There is as truth to the old saying, “Silence is golden!”  You see, silence helps you to actually experience what is going on outside of you and around you.  Silence is golden!

There is a character in the Advent story that knows all about silence. 

In the first chapter of Luke, we first encounter a man named Zechariah; Scripture tells us that he followed the Lord’s commands and regulations perfectly. Now Zechariah was a member of a priestly division in Israel and one day he entered the temple to keep the incense burning. 

Priestly divisions are somewhat like the members of the Reserves in our Armed Forces and were called upon to take turns caring for the temple. One of the responsibilities of the priests during their deployment was to attend to the altar. 

Here at Bethany, attending to the altar means keeping the candles filled with oil and the correct colors for the season out, having communion prepped when need, etc.  Quick side bar…If you would like to help with some of that, call the church office and talk to Cindy Morrison.

But let’s get back to the temple’s care.  One of the jobs within the temple was that of keeping a bowl of incense, which sat before the altar in the Most Holy Place, burning.  The priest who was honored to render this service was chosen by “lot.”  Which means no priest was guaranteed the chance to render this service, and when he got the chance, it was the chance of a lifetime.  This was Zechariah.

As he serves the Lord the angel Gabriel appears, and as in most encounters with the angelic, he was gripped with fear. I’ll let Luke pick it up from here…

The angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you will name him John. He will be your pride and joy, and many people will be glad that he was born.  As far as the Lord is concerned, he will be a great man. He will never drink wine or any other liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring many people in Israel back to the Lord their God.  He will go ahead of the Lord with the spirit and power that Elijah had. He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children. He will change disobedient people so that they will accept the wisdom of those who have God’s approval. In this way he will prepare the people for their Lord.”  Zechariah said to the angel, “What proof is there for this? I’m an old man, and my wife is beyond her childbearing years.” The angel answered him, “I’m Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence. God sent me to tell you this good news. But because you didn’t believe what I said, you will be unable to talk until the day this happens. Everything will come true at the right time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah. They were amazed that he was staying in the temple so long.  When he did come out, he was unable to speak to them. So they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. He motioned to them but remained unable to talk.” (Luke 1:11-22)

Two questions leap off the page at this event.  First, why was Zechariah struck mute?

Searching the pages of Scripture we see that Abraham had received the same news and asked the same question; Sara too—yet, even after she laughed at the news did not lose her voice.  Mary received the same message as Zechariah, from the very same messenger, the angel Gabriel, yet after she made the same inquiry, rather than hold her tongue, she was moved to share a song.  So why is Zechariah silenced?

Some say that because unlike Mary and Abraham, Zechariah didn't believe.  Unfortunately that idea requires a reading into the text with some forced input rather than remaining quiet before the Word to hear what it actually says.  The words of Zechariah’s mouth were practically identical with those of Abraham, Sarah and Mary.  How could we deduce that the faith of his heart was so different than theirs?

The second question is this, “How bad it is when the preacher is detoured from Divine dialogue?”  When the pastor is made mute is that a malady or a miracle?  Don’t answer that question.  I guess it depends on if you are the one talking or the one listening?

Actually while that last observation may be tongue in cheek, I do think that it is entirely possible that Zechariah’s tongue was rendered still because of his position. Had he been a patriarch like Abraham or a Princess like Sarah (for that is what her name means), or a prospective bride like Mary, perhaps his story would end like theirs, but he is a priest. 

So on the one hand, this text speaks directly to those of us who speak for the Lord through our positions in the church.  If anyone was to take an angel at his word it was the church worker, right?  Peasant girl…question away…pasture tender or patient wife of the same… sure, go ahead and puzzle, even chuckle, but the priest of God??

If anyone should have been open to God’s proclamation, if anyone ought to have been willing to accept heaven’s promise, it should have been the priest, right?! Its one thing for Abraham and Sarah to lack comprehension but what about that guy who taught that same story to Saturday school student’s dozens of times, or pondered the prophets who said it would come to pass?

There is another question we might want to wrestle with.  Is the silence that struck Zechariah more for his personal correction or our communal instruction?

Clearly Zechariah was struck silent because he didn't immediately embrace or accept Gabriel’s message.  Listen to the words of the angel again, “But because you didn’t believe what I said, you will be unable to talk until the day this happens” (v. 20)

This is personal correction, a physical rebuke, yet the judgment is filled with grace.  He didn't pack his bag and go home, he wasn't rendered unfit to serve in the house of the Lord, but he continued to minister in the temple verse 23 is clear on that.  He was blessed to be in the house of the Lord even without being able to speak a word.

Though silenced by God, God wasn’t silent with Zechariah.  He still served, finished out his deployment, listened and watched, touched and smelt that which was occurring in the temple of the Almighty every day. 

He then goes home, later his wife becomes pregnant, but his season of silence continued.  Often times we read the story in quick succession, but we all know the gestation period.  For well over 9 months Zechariah was silent. In his days of silence his son grew in the womb, the one who would prepare the people for the ministry of the Messiah. 

I wonder if in this season, Zechariah the priest of God would allow his mind to wander to the passages in the prophets telling about the promised Savior. Did he dare listen to the Word and let it wash over him without trying to get the last word in?  Because of course he couldn’t.  He was unable to speak. In those months of silence was his heart prepared for the coming of his Redeemer, and the Redeemer of the world?

At long last his son was born, and as they bring him to the temple to give him his name, those gathered expected this child to be name after his father. But from that season of silence, Zechariah was able to hear God’s word and then affirm them with his own. As he scratched on a tablet “His name is John!” and Luke then records, “Suddenly, Zechariah was able to speak, and he began to praise God.  All their neighbors were filled with awe. Throughout the mountain region of Judea, people talked about everything that had happened. Everyone who heard about it seriously thought it over and asked, “What does the future hold for this child?” It was clear that the Lord was with him.  His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Praise the Lord God of Israel!”  (Luke 1:64b-68)

You know, we often think of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, the babes and the shepherds, the stars and the angels as the characters of Advent, and I suppose rightly so.  But a character of Advent—the time of recognizing the Lord’s presence here and now—a Character of Advent is silence. 

As we wonder with awe as we watch and wait with our hearts filled with the expectation of what the Lord will accomplish, as we listen to the Lord’s words spoken and in song, and let them wash over us in silence, not trying to get the last word.

All too often we wonder and question before God has fully spoken. 

The character of Advent is silence, where wonder is exchanged for wonder when God is given voice as His people silence theirs – may we all find that silence this season.  
-Pr. Seth Moorman


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