November 29, 2015 // Making Room: Wonder // Sara Wolbrecht // Luke 1:1-25
Alright a question for us to consider as we get started today. What are things that we wait for? In what situations do we wait? Shout them out…
No wait is greater than that of the line to the women’s restroom at an Indigo Girls’ concert. Results from the doctor. Waiting for someone to respond to a text. In line for food, at the grocery store, any store.
Advent, the word itself means, = to come, to arrive. And whenever there is something that will arrive, there is waiting to be done for that thing to happen. And these fours Sundays before Christmas, the four Sundays of Advent, we become people who are aware of our waiting, as we await the arrival of Jesus breaking into this world. Yes, the arrival of the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas. But also recognizing that the story is much bigger than that. That for thousands of years God’s people waited and waited and watched and hoped for God to come to them. And that the story continues today. We, too, are people who wait and watch and hope for God to show up in our lives and our world here and now.
And we wait in the darkness. Advent happens during December, these shortest, darkest days of the year. And it is fitting for us to literally be surrounded by darkness – for darkness was how God’s people described their reality. That they who waited in darkness, longed for the Light of the Messiah.
Darkness is fitting also because we know that there is much darkness in this world – this week the shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado. The continuing suffering of refugees from Syria. Systemic issues of injustice and homelessness. Our own pain and suffering and that of those we love. We are people who await the kind of light and hope and possibility and justice and beauty that only God can shine. Advent, this season, draws us into that spiritual reality – of waiting, of darkness. That we long for something to come, to change, to break into the dark corners of this world and of our lives.
So this is where we find ourselves, this first Sunday of Advent. As people who wait, as people in the dark. And yet – don’t be fooled to think that “waiting” is something we do passively. That we kick back with our feet up. Or that we just sit there scrolling on our phones while we wait for the thing to happen.
Waiting is active. Anyone ever played softball of baseball? I played for about 10 years growing up. And you know that when you’re in the field, you don’t stand there waiting for someone to get a hit. You are on your toes, knees bent, arms in front of you, ready to sprint, to jump, to nab a line drive. There is anticipation. Expectancy. Urgency to how you wait.
And so it is for us in Advent. We have to get ready, find our posture. That’s why we left things a mess up here tonight – to demonstrate that waiting takes work. There is stuff to do! And we get to do it later this evening! And this particular Advent, here at Salt House the way we are talking about how we get ready, is by Making Room (banner). In this season where we are pressed by so many things to do and buy and eat and see – wonderful things – but it can be a lot. How do make room in our lives and our very selves for God? To hear the quiet whisper and the shouts of God in the midst of so much chaos? And this, of course, is a pattern for our lives not only for Advent and Christmas, but making room is part of what it means to live the life of Jesus.
So to make room, we will read our way through Luke chapter 1 for four weeks – it is a loooong chapter – it takes four weeks. Luke chapter one sets the stage before Jesus is born. And we’ll get to know some fascinating people, how Zechariah, Mary, and Elizabeth made room for Jesus. And how we too can spend this Advent season in Wonder, Saying Yes, Celebration, and making Heartroom. We’ll also read pieces of the Old Testament that lift up these themes of darkness and light. In addition to our Sundays together, we have a calendar of daily practices that further explore the theme for the week – simple, intentional things for us to try each day to help us Make Room, together. And we’ll also have Thursday night Advent Yoga – a space to breathe, listen, pray, and make room in our bodies.
So that, my friends, is where we are and where we are headed for Advent. Are you with me?
Today, the first Sunday of Advent, we begin Luke’s gospel. Luke’s story is a story principally about Jesus, but Jesus is not named for the first 30 verses. And Jesus is not actually born until well into the story – in chapter two. Luke is going to tell us about Mary’s extraordinary pregnancy and Jesus’ extraordinary birth, but he knows we will need to get warmed up first. So he begins – and we begin – with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a devout couple going about their everyday life – who through everyday moments are lead into extraordinary things.
Dani will read for us – the first four verses are Luke’s introduction, naming how in this cultural tradition where stories were passed down orally, he gathered all the stories written and spoken so that the new Jesus-followers at that time would have this resource to help them access this beautiful life of God. Then, we get to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Let’s reflect on what we have heard about Zechariah and Elizabeth – and see where that takes us. First Luke grips us with their human drama – the stuff of a good new prime-time drama. This couple, well past child-bearing age, are now finally going to have a son at last in a culture where childless women are mocked and shamed. This is a life-changer for them.
Luke describes them as “righteous before God”. Observant Jews, keeping the law as a sign of grateful devotion to God. They lived outside Jerusalem, in the Judean hill-country. Zechariah was a priest who would come into the city when it was the turn of his division to perform the regular Temple-liturgy; he would stay in the lodgings within the Temple precincts, and then return home to continue his normal work as a teacher and leader in his local community. On this particular occasion, when his division gathered and cast dice to see who would be the one to go into the Temple, into the inner court, out of the sight of the lay people to offer incense to God – Zechariah was chosen.
In he goes to burn incense and perform the liturgy. Here’s a little thing I want us to notice at this point: this is a dude doing his job. Zechariah is a priest, and heading into the inner court of the Temple is a pretty cool responsibility, and one that is his job.
And then BAM. There is an angel, a messenger from God. And Gabriel lets Zechariah know that after all these years he and Elizabeth are going to have a son – and not just any son, but that his son would fulfill the biblical promises that had spoken of God sending someone to prepare Israel for God to come to them. The scriptures had foretold that the prophet Elijah would return one day to get the people ready for God’s arrival. Gabriel tells Zechariah that this will be John’s task.
Notice how Zechariah responds. Does Zechariah say, woo-hoo! This is the best, thank you, thank you!
No. Zechariah has such a great, honest response. HIs first reaction is disbelief, he asks for proof. I’m sorry – how can that be – I need a sign, to believe this crazy thing you just said.
And I do so love Zechariah for this. How human he is. And I love Gabriel’s response. I mean, he’s an angel, a terrifying messenger from God, and Zechariah is asking for a sign. Isn’t this angel kind of proof enough? You can practically hear the eye-roll from Gabriel. Are you kidding me? And Zechariah does get his sign – he can’t talk for nine months. The quick lesson here: always believe the angel. Period.
Another quick side note: the Bible is really funny sometimes – don’t be afraid to notice that and laugh. This bit between Zechariah and the angel? That is funny stuff!
In a few weeks we’ll come back to Zechariah and Elizabeth and John and say a lot more about them, but here’s what I want us to dial in for tonight.
First, again, Zechariah is doing his job when God shows up. And here’s the thing for us in this: God shows up in the normal stuff. Zechariah goes to work. And there, God shows up. We picture Zechariah like this (in the temple) but to get it in the terms of our lives here and now, it’s more like Zechariah here (in the office) or here (hiking) or here (getting a cup of coffee) or here (grocery shopping).
God shows up in our everyday, normal, hanging out, going to work moments of our lives.
And so for us, as people who wait for God to come, who know the darkness in our lives, who are crazy busy with many things – the thing for us to consider as people of Advent, who are making room for God – the thing we’re making room for is to hold this as true and real and possible. That God is in the normal details of our lives. To believe the ordinary things of our lives become the extraordinary, for there, we too are surprised by God.
Just as we stand on our toes, knees bent, glove out in baseball, with this posture of being ready, as Advent people, we stand with a posture of possibility. On our toes with the possibility that God will shimmer in the normal stuff. That we will glimpse those moments that shine, where the light peaks in, and yes even times when it seems a full sized angel stands before us. And the word that captures this posture of possibility is: wonder. We make room for wonder. In how we see the world, in how we see ourselves, in how we see the movement of God in all things. That God will show up as we’re stuck in traffic, as we do the dishes, as hike, as we go to a movie, as we talk to the person who is also waiting in line with us at the grocery store. We make room for wonder.
I so appreciate Zechariah and his need for a sign, because I know that there must be so many moments where God is standing right there, and I totally miss it for what it is, when God is particularly present. And I am responding to it with the, Hang on a minute, can I get a little sign about that? And I don’t think God is one to roll His eyes, but man, I know I give God good reason to do it! Are you like me?
Jason and I were in Missoula this week staying with his parents, in the house he grew up in. And there were many moments for wonder. The fact that it was 3 degrees outside is wonder enough. But we had some snow! And deer were everywhere. And I love watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – because when Santa rolls in at the end – I am a teary mess. It’s Santa! Because it puts me in touch with that sense of wonder, and really I think those holiday moments that we experience this time of year, those are moments of wonder. And even when they don’t seem like “spiritual things”, they actually are. If anything, it puts us in touch with that child-like faith that we had when we were younger, the kind of faith that Jesus actually names as the kind of faith we should have, where we believe almost anything is possible. Where when an angel shows up, man, we are all in. For in those moments that draw us back into wonder, we remember that there is something beyond what we can see, that this presence of Jesus in the world is there. Those are some of the many, many signs of the light coming into our darkness.
Did you have moments of wonder this week? It is the holiday wonder stuff, yes, and it is so many other things, too. I had the chance to just sit and watch the snow fall while holding each of my children – and drinking a warm adult beverage. But it was wonder-full. Did you have a chance to talk with someone, connect with a friend or family member in a way that the light of Christ shimmered for you? Did God show up at your table during Thanksgiving? Maybe in a warm fuzzy moment, but maybe in a hard, truth-telling moment as can happen with family? Did you have a chance to sit and notice something – the frost, the sounds of Christmas music beginning, the first Christmas lights hung in your neighborhood, maybe someone extending generosity and care to another.
Wonder. It is a posture of being present. Awareness. Paying attention. Noticing. And believing that the extraordinary is possible in the ordinary. To be surprised by God in the normal stuff. Making room for that.
That is our invitation this week. And I will warn you, because what we will find is that there are things that get in the way of wonder. I know it’s true for me. It is hard for me to be present, to notice, to wonder when I haven’t had time for rest, time for myself, or when there I so much going on that my brain is always making a list, thinking about tomorrow, and next week, on to the next thing, instead of seeing, really seeing and experiencing the moment right in front of me. This week, notice what gets in the way of wonder for you – because there is always something – that’s why we have to be intentional about making room.
As a final thought I offer you this – something my cousin Christina shared on Facebook last week, a piece of a short poem from Langston Hughes:
I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
- Langston Hughes
I read that and say YES, yes I am. I see what’s happening in the world and I am tired. And yet as Jesus’ people, people of Advent, we read that and we also say, Oh, but there are signs of light in the darkness. Even in the ugly things we see, there are so many good, beautiful, kind things, too. Step back, notice, make room for wonder – and see for yourself. And as Jesus’ people we also say, yes, we’re tired of waiting for the world to become good and beautiful and kind. So we better get to work. Because waiting is something that takes action, preparation, sweat and tears and a posture of possibility. And maybe it simply begins in our willingness to see the world differently – the beautiful places where God is, and to make room to embrace it. With wonder. Amen.