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Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Zechariah blesses his newly born child. The blessings cascade into promises of hope for the people and a call to ministry for John. The role cast upon John recalls the prophecy of Malachi and anticipates God’s reign. The immanence and hope of God’s reign must be announced. The way of God’s Messiah must be prepared. You, child, shall be God’s prophet. Luke 1:68–79 Zechariah’s “song” in our focus passage is his first utterance in months. Zechariah’s disbelief at Gabriel’s word of a child to be born to his wife Elizabeth in their old age rendered him mute (1:19–20). Thus John’s birth, even as his later ministry, evoked questions – “What then will become of this child?” (1:66). Zechariah speaks over John almost as a liturgical response to this question. Another important background piece to this text, and Luke as a whole, is the previous visit of Mary to Elizabeth. Luke indicates the women are related. Their two children share ties of kinship. More importantly, they share in the revealing of God’s promised reign. John will announce that realm even as he will prepare the way for Jesus. The prophecy of Zechariah is a text of blessing and commissioning. Zechariah weaves quotes and images from Israel’s prophets into his own declaration of God’s reign: “Light to those who sit in the shadow of death” (Isaiah 9:2). “The dawn from on high will break upon us” (Malachi 4:2). In Zechariah’s words, we are invited to perceive John as the next of Israel’s prophets. Not to be overlooked in these verses is the voice of a father blessing his child. As a priest, Zechariah knew the prophetic traditions. The ways they faced were not always easy. The words they spoke often were not accepted. But as Hannah sang over Samuel, and Mary gloried in the promise of God’s reign and her child, Zechariah speaks now. We all see our children as gifts of God to us. Zechariah sings of his son as a gift and a call for the sake of a whole people. Verse 68 celebrates God’s redemption as something already come to pass. God’s reign is a “now” experience – but it is also a “not yet” hope. John’s work of announcing and preparing remains. We do not yet fully walk in the way of peace. We live between the times. But John prepares us to bridge those times, as we live toward God’s reign in experience and hope. In today’s readings, there is a strong sense of something (or someone) new that is coming. Malachi 3:1–4 and Philippians 1:3–11 both use the imagery of righteousness, whether in the context of offering or harvest, to speak of how we prepare our lives for what God is working out among us. The traditional understanding of Philippians as written during Paul’s imprisonment heightens the sense of longing in the passage. Likewise, Malachi’s placement in the Christian canon as the final Old Testament book invests its message (“Malachi” literally means “my messenger”) with a sense of transition and expectation. The surprise of God’s reign and its announcement takes narrative form in Luke 3:1–6. A careful listing of “very important persons” in their “very important places” reveals that God’s word will break forth from somewhere and someone totally unexpected. Similarly, Luke and Malachi stress that the way God breaks open may not be all that comfortable to traverse. Zechariah’s words lift up the role of John in God’s redemptive work. What do you hear this song affirming about life, self, vocation, and God: as they relate to John; as they relate to you? In what ways do we strike a faithful balance between relying on God to bring the “not yet” of God’s reign,” and our bearing witness to God’s reign already among us?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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