Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
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. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 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. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.’ 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.’ 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. 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.’
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 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. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’
In the Retail Sector the Christmas tree and decorations may already be down. Forget Advent, let’s fast forward to Christmas. We still have 7 days to go. Do you remember and could you play a cassette and video – the rewind and fast forward buttons?. I have no need to worry about finding a DVD or video for my favourite Christmas movie: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’. A little girl presents a judge with a Christmas card and within it is a one dollar bill and she has highlighted ‘In God We Trust’. It will have been played over and over again as channels dedicated to Christmas movies have been showing since August.
If you follow the Revised Common Lectionary it fast forwards to verse 26: ‘In the sixth month’. The Lectionary omits this text from Luke. If you only follow the Lectionary then you would never hear: ‘Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us’ (Luke 1:1). In the preface to the African Bible Commentary, edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo, it says: ‘Luke acknowledges that he is not the first to try and record Jesus’ life’.
Some of us may be counting down the number of carols services left, hoping that our voices hold. Zechariah became ‘silent and unable to speak’ with the appearance of Gabriel: ‘I was sent to you to bring you Good News’. So let’s put our trust in God. If we are left speechless or silent we trust in the One who sent a vulnerable Baby Jesus into the world to transform the world as we know it.
And if the worst happens: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary’. But first let’s welcome John who prepares the way for Jesus of Nazareth.
The countdown continues – only 7 sleeps to Christmas – only 7 services to go. Scriptures show us that you never give up on us, and you use people who feel they have nothing left to give. (‘For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years’)
‘Actions speak louder than words’ and may the birth of Jesus change the lives of those who are desperate, alone and afraid. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
The Rev’d Andrew Royal, Minister Maidstone & Staplehurst URC