You, my child

I once studied in a community that sang morning prayer together every Tuesday and Thursday. The last song of morning prayer was from Luke 1:68-79, the song of the old priest Zechariah as he held his new baby son. In Luke’s story the angel Gabriel had announced the coming birth to Zechariah, saying that the child would prepare the way for the coming messiah. Zechariah was skeptical, mostly because he and his wife were childless and quite old. But don’t question an angel if it is Gabriel; Zechariah was struck mute until after the baby was born. Later, his voice restored and son in his arms, he praised God and sang about the child’s destiny:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
you have come to your people and set them free.
You have raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of your servant David.
Through your holy prophets you promised of old
that you would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
You promised to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember your holy covenant.
This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship you without fear,
holy and righteous in your sight all the days of our lives.

In the community we sang this song so frequently, we knew it by heart. We belted it out with enthusiasm, mostly because lunch was next on the schedule. But before we hurried outside, there came the final part of the song, reserved for one person only to sing. The rest of us would have to hush and stand in silence with growling stomachs while we heard the words of Zechariah to his baby John, the future “baptizer” and eater of locusts and honey:

You, my child,
shall be called the prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God,

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Then, song finished, we darted out the door, often oblivious to what had just happened: that we, not just baby John, had been commissioned as prophets. For centuries, the Church has picked up Zechariah’s song and for centuries has sung it to her children, whether they listen or not. She sings so that they, like the prophet John, would go before the Lord to prepare the way, that they too would tell others about the good news of forgiveness, that they too would bear the light of God in the corners of darkness and death where their friends or neighbors are hiding, that they too would extend God’s peace to others. Yes, however hungry to move on, however inattentive, our morning prayer community was held for a moment, silenced, and commissioned by Zechariah’s words.

“You, my child….” Who? Me? On Sunday the congregation and I will be held and addressed by Zechariah’s words in our service of lessons and advent carols. Never mind that a chaotic, consuming, competing “holiday” season swirls around us; God will stubbornly commission us anew as advent prophets to buck the frenzied system and, instead, spend these next few weeks telling the good news of Jesus, persisting in forgiveness, shedding light to the depressed and making peace with the anxious. This commissioning is counter to the bad news, distrusting, despairing, worried current around us. If we should dare think ourselves an unlikely choice for this “prophet” thing of preparing the way, remember this: it was highly unlikely for Zechariah and his wife to have a baby in their old age. Yet God always has had a way of choosing the unlikely things. Unlikely or not, God is choosing us.

Comments

  1. The Lord gave you His light and wisdom to always know what is right and others learn much from you.
    This traditional American Thansgiving holiday always sounds so delightful and fun to me. So happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as you find plenty to be grateful for Elaine.

  2. There is a more recent tradition: the day after Thanksgiving the stores open in the wee hours of the morning with attractive sales and people try to get all their Christmas shopping done. It is called “Black Friday” because it is the day the stores’ accounts turn a profit for the year. It is a hugely crowded, traffic-jammed, heavily-laden, credit cards sparkling day.

    This year my family’s Thanksgiving is a day late because that’s the only time when we could get together. I will be preparing the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and chocolate pie while most everyone else is out on the road shopping. Thus I am unintentionally starting the advent season counter the culture.

  3. No Tradition will replace Thanksgiving. A home cooked meal, the 1st “breather” to be together as a family in the Lord’s Presence. Him, being the reason we have the “where with all” to provide a meal and to be able to safely gather, under a roof he has provided.
    Yes there are those who get caught in the “gift grab” an obsession to comfort themselves. But Our Heavenly Father always prevails!!
    Oh, by the way, shopping all done! I find neat things through out the year for my loved ones. No Credit Card!
    Kudos on the Counter Culture, Yea PE