This Week's Sermon
December 3, 2017 Luke 1:5-25 Rev. Micol Cottrell
This week Jessica and I set up our Christmas decorations. Our tree is up, the ornaments are hung, and our nativities have been carefully unwrapped and set up. We have a large collection of nativities. Some of them are small, others are larger, we have the nativity set that Jessica grew up with, and a collection of nativity sets from Ten Thousand Villages which are made throughout the world. Some of them just have Mary and Joseph, others also have shepherds and the wise men, one has Santa kneeling at the manger, another, from Mexico, has the holy family on a bus. There is something special about setting all of the nativities up and looking at the different ways in which artists have told the story of Jesus’ birth.
There is only Three weeks until Christmas. Does this make you excited or overwhelmed. We have a beautiful tradition in the Christian Church before Christmas comes - we have a season to slow down and prepare. In the rush to jump into Christmas, amidst the noise of malls, the headaches of planning, the busy schedules that pick up before Christmas break, the loneliness, longing, or loss that this time can bring, Advent stands in the middle of the road like a construction worker on a dark morning waving a long poll with a stop sign on it. She yells at our speeding car “not so fast, slow down, you’re going to miss something important.”
And there beside Advent and her sign stand Elizabeth and Zachariah. None of the nativity scenes we own include them. Yet the Gospel of Luke gives these two a very important place in the story of Jesus’ birth. It’s a magnificent story, another angel visit and a miraculous birth. An angel comes to Zachariah and tells him that he and Elizabeth are going to have a baby but not just any baby, one who will prepare the way of the Lord by turning people back towards one another and towards God. It is everything that they could have dreamed of --- could have --- because they are well past the age of having a baby. So Zachariah simply says “how do I know this is true, we’re just too old.” Then there is silence and Zachariah will not be able to speak until his son is born when he will sing a beautiful song about God delivering the people and share a blessing with his son.
Does this story sound familiar at all? It kind of sounds like Jesus’ birth with the angel and the miraculous birth but it also sounds like another birth story. Long ago, the story of faith says, an angel visited a man and pointed to the stars and the sand and promised a nation would be born from his descendants, and the man’s wife laughed and laughed and said it’s impossible we are too old. Now in the place of laughing Sarah Luke has muted Zachariah and instead of Abraham there is Elizabeth. Zachariah, Elizabeth, and John all draw the story of Jesus’ birth into the stories, relationships, promises, and cries for justice and healing that have gone before.
And when we hit the brakes and skid to a stop in front of Advent we see that Zachariah, Elizabeth, and even baby John are standing on the side of the road waiting to greet us. This holy family, forgotten from most nativity scenes, stands there reminding us that the path we are walking on - the path that is heading to Bethlehem and to Jesus birth - is one that has been walked upon many times before. It is a path filled with the hopes, dreams, and promises that fill the stories of the Old Testament. It is path of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Ruth, Isaiah, and so many others. It is the path for a young woman who says yes to God and her carpenter husband, and for shepherds standing in field. It is the path for an elderly priest and his wife. And it is the path for each one of us.
As we head towards Bethlehem, as we rush towards Christmas, we meet the stories of our faith along the way and share them in community. The stories open our lives and invite us to reflect upon our relationship to God, one another, and creation. When are we like Zachariah not daring to believe that we are part of the profound holy story God is writing into this world? When do we cry out “God you got the wrong person, I’m too old, I’m not smart enough, strong enough, holy enough?” When do we hold back from running out into the streets to sing of the holy things that are happening all around us? When do we hold back from crying out and joining in the movement towards peace and justice that God dreams for this world? When do we look at the sacred road and say – It can’t be for me?
Advent looks through the car window at us, smiles, and flips the sign around. A yellow triangular proceed with caution sign appears and she tells us to go ahead but to keep an eye out because other holy things will meet us on this road to Bethlehem and we are part of this sacred story being written right here and now. So come let us be an advent people, proceeding through this holy season with caution, preparing our hearts for Christ to be born in us and among us once more. Amen. Let it be so.