Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
How are you keeping track of Advent? Are you counting the time with one of those chocolate-filled countdown calendars? I remember having one of those one year. Each day I’d get to pop one of those babies open and eat the little chocolate piece in the shape of a sheep or a star. My brothers were not as patient.
This year, I’m not rationing chocolate for Advent. I’m participating in a sort of interactive Advent calendar, one of many that are floating around on the internet right now. It’s called Advent Photo-a-day, and you share a picture of something related to the word of the day. And wouldn’t you know it: today’s word is patience. Which is fitting, because tonight we heard the first of three ancient songs sung by people who have been waiting patiently to for God.
The first song in our Advent midweek series is sung by a priest named Zechariah. Both he and his wife Elizabeth were descended from priests, so you could say they were continuing the family business. And their deepest wish would have been for that family tradition to continue. But though they were righteous before God, and waited patiently, no child came, and they starting to get on in years.
But one day, as Zechariah was doing his normal duties in the temple, he was interrupted by an angel, who told him that he and his wife would have a son. And he would not grow up to be just any man, but he would be the one to prepare the way of the Lord. Upon hearing this awesome news, that the patience of he and his wife had been rewarded handsomely, did Zechariah jump for joy? Shout it at the top of his lungs? Phone a friend to tell them the good news?
No, he did none of those things. He didn’t believe the messenger, and so he was struck mute until the day Elizabeth would give birth. With was kind of a problem for him in his line of work.
Nine months later, Elizabeth gave birth to a little boy. And after decades of childlessness and nine months of silence, the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth were words of praise. Their patience had been rewarded. They had been given a son, who was to prepare the way for the coming dawn of the Lord.
This Advent, what are you waiting for? Are you sitting in the darkness of strained relationships, of loss and grief, of loneliness and depression? Do you feel overshadowed by overwhelming schedules and demands, by illness or sadness, by the violence and woes of a turbulent world?
Are you waiting with patience? Or are you perhaps a little more like Zechariah, who missed seeing the very fulfilment of his hopes because he had accepted the darkness as the way things always would be.
We shouldn’t really be so hard on Zechariah, though. He at least got to witness the answer of his prayers. But as he sings this song of praise, his son John is still just a baby. He still has to grow into the important role he was born into, as John the Baptist, the preparer of the way. So for them, even though their deepest longing has been fulfilled, more patience is still required.
It’s hard to be patient, when we are so used to getting what we want or need right away. But if we really believe, as Zechariah believed, that the dawn from on high will break upon us, that God who has promised to be faithful really will be faithful to us, then I think it might be worth it. Because the dawn has already broken on those of us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. So in a sense we wait for what we already have – the presence of the Lord in our midst. Sometimes that presences is easy to miss, sometimes we don’t believe it because it’s too good to be true, and sometimes we miss it because darkness is more comfortable and familiar than light. And sometimes, God even uses us in order to shine the light for others.
In my photo for my Advent Picture-a-day, today I included this candle. You see it’s not an actual wax candle. It’s one of the “pretend” ones. I bought it last year for Holden evening prayer, when it was dropped and broken, and then I broke it more in trying to make it not look funny. I could have gotten another one, a new one that was whole, but I decided to keep it. I’ve used it in a few things – like this summer when nineteen youth from across the state met in Brick for the hottest week ever in order to help people still suffering the effects of Sandy. It shone for us as we shone line for others. I keep it because it reminds me that even though it’s not perfect, it’s kind of chipped and even, it still does what it’s supposed to. It still gives light to those who are in darkness.
And you child, shall be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. Amen.