Ever feel like you could list a whole lot of good things in your life… a lot of blessings… but, there is that one thing that is not quite right, that one situation. Something is missing. Listen to this young woman’s confusion of mind… I have absolutely no idea what to do with my life. I'm turning 20 soon and in my third year in Junior College and still don't know if I want to transfer to a 4-year, or what career path, or … even just become some gold-digging bimbo. Lol. I can't seem to make any decisions. None. I'm not extraordinary in anything, so I don't know where it is I would be needed and where I would always want to be. I can't find that thing to go for. That big goal. Some purpose to be motivated for. It's like standing in a 200-way intersection and not knowing witch way I'm supposed to go..So I just stand there.. (anonymous, internet)
In today’s scripture reading, look for the word “but.” so many blessings, so many reasons to be thankful… “but” something is disappointing you, you feel abandoned, incomplete, and you feel bad for feeling bad….
In Luke 1:5-6, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are introduced. These two are to become the parents of Jesus’ cousin John, who is later nicknamed John the Baptist. Just as John is the prelude to Jesus’ public ministry, so he is the prelude to Jesus’ birth. It’s almost like God is saying, “the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World, is too good to be true, so let me prepare you by sharing another amazing story just to get you ready…”
The first couple verses of today’s scripture set the stage… “the time of King Herod” relative peace even though it is a political situation nobody in Israel wants; the Romans are occupying the land and Herod is a puppet of the Roman empire… next week I’ll talk a little more about how it’s been 400 years since God has spoken to the people through his prophets… an era of unrest, an era of darkness… yet life goes on and patterns are established. The Jews are allowed to worship according to the ancient customs through sacrifices and temple worship. Zechariah is a priest. In those days if you were from the bloodline of Aaron, you were automatically a priest. Today the best guess is that there were 20,000-25,000 priests in Israel. There were so many priests they were divided into 24 divisions, and each division of perhaps 1000 each would go to the temple twice a year to serve. The closest modern pattern I can think of might be the national guard, those who sign up go and serve according to a pattern, and they might be called into active duty at any time. That’s background to this scripture, I hope some of you find it interesting. I’ll add a bit more next week.
Here is what I find more important, more instructive in order to apply to our own lives. The names Zechariah and Elizabeth mean something. In those days names have significant meaning… Zechariah means, “God remembers…” Check this out… Israel has not heard from God in 400 years. Silence. Luke, in his gospel, goes back further than any other gospel to begin the story. The story of the birth of John the Baptist. 400 years of silence. Apathy in the land. Patterns. These words are the breaking of the silence… “In the time of Herod the King of Judea there was a priest named, “God remembers…” On the human level we could say Luke begins the gospel story with the telling of the story of Z and E, but I think it begins more accurately with God remembering… To read the name Zechariah is a time to bring chills to your arms ~ could it be, God has not forgotten? God breaking the silence… imagine being locked in a prison, alone, no sounds, no hope to get out under your own power, and then to hear footsteps, news, a person, a morsel of food, anything…. “Zechariah” God remembers… the sound of footprints are coming down the hall perhaps to unlock the door… God remembers… in the silence of your own emptiness, listen for God’s footsteps, God remembers… he has not forgotten.
And what has God not forgotten? The scripture continues and introduces Zechariah’s wife. Luke 1:5: “his wife Elizabeth…” Do you know what Elizabeth means? ~ God’s promise. His promise. Take them together: God remembers his promise. Could it be? Is thunder about to break the silence?
What a gift to give another when you remember. Oh how I wish I could remember more than I do. Listening is an important ministry, a wonderful gift to give others, but remembering may be the twin brother of listening. Some of you in this congregation have a wonderful gift of remembering anniversaries, and the cards and notes you send out make people feel special… I don’t have that gift. To be remembered… years ago when I was in Nooksack, I went to a small group seminar at CTK in Bellingham. I talked to Pastor Steve Mason during the break and told him some of my story, what was going on in my life, and some of the needs. He listened, had a few thoughts for me. 6-8 months later I had a week of vacation, but Sally and I did not go anywhere, that week we decided to visit CTK. After the service I noticed Pastor Steve was standing by himself upfront, so I went to introduce myself. This is a man that meets hundreds of people a month, maybe a week. Pastor Steve looked at me, and before I said anything, he could not come up with my name, but he remembered my story. What a gift…
What a tremendous gift, when you are feeling overwhelmed, when you feel as though nobody is listening, something is missing: God remembers his promise. Remembering is so important. One of the gifts God has given me is to remember names. I am far from perfect but I do well. To have people remember your birthday, to remember milestones, to remember is a reminder that you mean something. God remembers… Ever feel life is more like the couple, both in their nineties, both having problems remembering things. During a checkup, the doctor tells them that they're physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember. Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. "Want anything while I'm in the kitchen?" he asks."Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?" "Sure." "Don't you think you should write it down so you can remember it?" she asks. "No, I can remember it."
"Well, I'd like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so's not to forget it?
He says, "I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries. " "I'd also like whipped cream. I'm certain you'll forget that, write it down?" she asks. Irritated, he says, "I don't need to write it down, I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream - I got it, for goodness sake!" Then he goes into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes, The old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs. She stares at the plate for a moment. "Where's my toast ?"
God remembers. When something seems to be missing, when you are feeling incomplete, it’s easy to conclude God has forgotten you. But it isn’t so… This Christmas season, listen for God’s footsteps in your life. One person I was visiting with yesterday used the phrase God’s whispers…listen for his whispers… we may feel abandoned, like God doesn’t care, or even worse, he doesn’t notice. Sometimes it seems like God has forgotten, the silence, something is missing. But God remembers his promise ~ he has not forgotten. Even after 400 years! My prayer for you is that the silence will be broken and you will have that missing gap filled in, the broken in an unexpected way. God is full of surprises.
Did you find the “but” in the scripture? The beginning of Luke 1:7. Luke 1:5-6 is about everything that is right in the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth… “both of them were upright in the sight of God…” in the middle of the silence, they were both faithful… models of faith, obedient, blameless…I am sure they were not perfect in every way, but the two of them living in a world of unrest were solid, wonderful god-fearing people in a day of national discouragement, uncertainty, silence. Z and E are solid people!
“but…” even for them, something was missing. READ Luke 1:7. Let me explain, while children are a blessing, we cannot interpret this to mean people must have children to be complete. Z and E are upright and blameless before children. You can have a full life without children… In the first century there was more cultural pressure and expectations than today… God clearly blessed Z and E, but… for them… something was missing. Elizabeth was not able to have children, and now, on the human level, time had run out… So much is good and right, but something is missing.
What’s the “but” in your life. There is so much good, but…and when you have that feeling, in your head you may understand God will never abandon you, yet in your heart how easy to have a nagging feeling God has forgotten…
God remembers his promise. I want to peak ahead to the end of Luke 1, verse 78. Zechariah has an angel visitation, God gives an amazing promise to Z and E, which comes to pass, and now this song of praise is a response to all that God has done: READ Luke 1:78-79. God remembers his promise. He gives each of us a new promise and through his tender mercy he delivers peace. Something is missing in Z and E’s life, and God finds a way to bring peace.
I love the phrase, “the rising sun will come to us from heaven.” What’s he talking about? 400 years earlier, in the last words written down before the silence began, the Prophet Malachi wrote, READ Mal. 4:2. God remembers his promise. Mal. 3:16 even refers to a “scroll of remembrance.” God remembers his promise. One of the most beautiful times of day, (a time many of you probably never see) is the moment right before the dawn, the promise of the rising sun as it ascends above Sumas mountain, a clear day in which the promise of light is about to penetrate the darkness. That’s what being remembered does for you. God remembers his promise.
We live in a day in which it is so easy to be discouraged, to doubt, to cower in the darkness, days of uncertainty. We don’t know what some of our new laws mean to us, we don’t understand our politicians and why we are being driven so close to a cliff. We all know way too many people without jobs, without enough income. Desperate times. How easy to become discouraged and conclude God is silent. As if you are trudging along. And you may not even be able to identify that which is missing in your life, the depression, the apathy, the questions, the endless night.
But all is not dark. God remembers his promises. “the rising of the sun will come to us from heaven.” We are not living in days of darkness. We are living in the dawning of a new day, and the glory of the Lord is about to rise. Is the news too good to be true? The son of God is coming. God always remembers his promise. Amen.