December 6, 2020
Watch our live-streamed worship service on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc0a2eTaxmw
You can join in the liturgy and hymns with the documents below:
As we continue looking at some of the Songs of the Season in Advent, we turn to the first baby born in the Christmas narrative, a few months before the stable scene in Bethlehem. The remarkable story of John the Baptist’s beginnings receives considerably less attention than his cousin (rightfully so, as the prophet would say!), but it’s still worth taking a closer look at what the Spirit might have to say to us in the Song of Zechariah:
- The story of John the Baptist’s birth actually begins in Luke 1:5-25. Like Mary, Zechariah receives an announcement from Gabriel that he and his wife Elizabeth will be given a child in their old age. Zechariah isn’t sure such good news can be believed, and Gabriel strikes him mute “until the day these things occur!” What would it be like to receive such good news and then not be able to tell anyone else about it? How do you imagine Zechariah enacting his angelic encounter with the crowd outside the Temple or with Elizabeth when he got home? What sorts of creative ways could you use to express the ‘good news’ of our gospel of faith?
- In Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story, we hear echoes of Abraham and Sarah – a faithful and righteous, elderly couple receiving a prophecy of an important son. That connection is important. Just as God said “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” through the children of Abraham (Genesis 12:3), so John will be a prophet for all the people, giving “knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.” Zechariah’s song reminds us, salvation is not an individual’s blessing, but belongs to the whole community. When John is born, it isn’t just his family that rejoices but the entire town (verse 58)! Why is it important to celebrate together? Is it ever difficult to celebrate someone else’s good news? This year as so many are feeling isolated, especially around the holidays, how are we staying connected to our larger community?
- The community not only rejoices at this miraculous child, but also speculates about “what then will this child become?” (verses 65-66). The communities that we are a part of help shape who we are. Who in your life, beyond your parents and family, has had an impact on your identity? For whom in your community, especially children, might you be an influence? In the Presbyterian Church, when a child is baptized the whole congregation is asked: “Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture this child, by word and deed, with love and prayer; will you encourage them to known and follow Christ and to be faithful members of Christ’s church?” What does that promise mean to you?
- Names are especially important in this narrative. ‘Zechariah’ means ‘God remembers’ and ‘Elizabeth’ means ‘God’s promise’ in Hebrew. When the community gathers to name the baby, the parents say his name is John, which means ‘God is gracious.’ How do we see the significance of these names work in the story? Do you know what your name means and where it came from?
- After months of silence, Zechariah’s “mouth is opened” and the first thing he does is sing praise to God! His psalm connects him to the prophets and bridges the Jewish faith to this new thing God is doing in the birth of John and of Jesus. If you couldn’t speak for a long time, what do you think you’d want to say first? Which of the images in Zechariah’s Song (verses 68-79) speak to you especially? How does this song inspire your faith this week?
The second week of Advent is themed around Peace. In the midst of turbulent times, I pray that each of us indeed finds light in these days, and that together our community walks in the “path of peace” (verse 79).
Blessings to you all!
Pastor Maggie Rust