Luke 1: 66-79
Zechariah was one of the more respected priests in his order, and among priests in general. He was given the honor of burning the incense at the holy altar when his order of priests was on duty. This meant that he had to go in alone, and stand near the holy of holies. Everyone in Israel was standing outside, it seemed.
He looked up and there was an angel standing next to the altar. He said the first thing that he had always heard all angels say—“Don’t be afraid.” And then he said something that was really interesting. “You’re going to have a son, and you’re going to name him John. He will give many people, you included, great joy, because he is going to be dedicated for a great work. He’ll never drink alcohol, yet he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from before his birth. He’ll be destined to bring many people back to the Lord God, in preparation for the One.”
While Zechariah was one of the more respected priests, this event really shook him up, and he responded most un-priestly. “I can’t have a kid, neither can Elizabeth. I’m old, and she’s barren.”
“Well,” the angel replied, “I am the angel Gabriel. I am a constant presence with God, and I am here, telling you this is true. You don’t believe me? Fine. You will not speak until this boy is born, in God’s time.”
And Zechariah couldn’t speak after that for about 9 months. When he came out of the temple, he was unable to speak, so they knew pretty quickly that something pretty significant had happened in there! But, since he wouldn’t even try to describe what had happened with his hands or by writing it down, they didn’t know what it was. But he did walk around for the next few months with a pretty big grin on his face! Then, Elizabeth, his wife, started to show, and they got a little bit of a clue.
There was one other weird story about this baby. She and this other girl from out Nazareth way had a visit—the must have been some sort of cousin. When the girl walked in, she greeted Elizabeth, and Elizabeth felt her baby kick. Hard. Almost like it was jumping around! The timing was too much to ignore—Elizabeth knew what was up with this girl’s baby, and said so. “You’re the one who is carrying the baby my son is destined to prepare the way for.” Oh, God be praised!
When it came time for Elizabeth to give birth, she had a son, but they didn’t follow custom and name him after a relative. On the eighth day, they were about to name him Zechariah, just like his dad, but Elizabeth said no. Name him John, she said. They motioned Zechariah over, and said, “Well, what is his name?” He still couldn't speak, so he asked for a pad and a pen, and wrote down “His name is John”. And then there was this little whoosh, and Zechariah made a noise, then another one, and then he realized that he was able to speak again!
His first words were amazing. He said:
“Something's coming, folks. God’s will is finally starting to work itself out, and in our time! And with my son! The Messiah is coming, and John is the one who will prepare his way! The Messiah we asked for, the one who comes out of David’s clan, is coming! Every bit of the prophecy we have ever heard is coming true, now! Everything from Abraham on down, every bit of prophecy is going to come true, and we’ll feel like the sun has just risen, it will be all so clear! Everyone will see God, everyone will understand, everyone will get what is truly meant by peace!”
And then, of course, we know the rest of the story. John grew up to be a prophet, and began baptizing people in the Jordan river, the same river that his people had crossed to go to the promised land. One of the people he baptized was Jesus, his cousin, born six months later, and he and John were cousins. John did indeed prepare Jesus’ way, getting all who would hear or believe ready for what was coming by preparing them, teaching them, challenging them to get right with God. "The Messiah is here", he said, "among us, and now is the time. You think what I do is holy and filled with God, well, you just wait. I’m not even able to untie the shoes of the one who is coming. He’s going to know who has truly accepted God, and who is just out here in this river getting baptized because it is the cool thing to do!”
So, here we sit, some 2000 years later, in that week before Advent starts, waiting again. Something's coming, folks. The baby has been born, but we must wait for it to grow up. We must wait for the birth of the baby who was born over 2000 years ago. He was born once on earth, lived, and died. But that death is unique among l of the deaths of humanity, because he died for us. Not just his friends or his family, but for all of humanity. He was placed in that situation and that was the choice he made.
Oh, he’s come and gone, physically, but 2000 years later, we talk about him being present with us in the same Holy Spirit that soaked that little baby named John before he was born. That power is now known by millions of people, because of how God worked in the lives of four unlikely people; a carpenter, and a pregnant young girl, not even married yet; and a priest and a wife who found they were pregnant long after their childbearing years, to bring a son to earth who was the announcement of God’s working in the world. The power John displayed as a baby, leaping in his mothers' womb at the presence of Jesus, and neither of them born yet, is the power that came upon dozens of people on the portico of the temple one Pentecost, a power that was still present long after he’d been killed by Herod.
Now the Holy Spirit resides in us. It is quiet, it is loud, it is polite, it is rambunctious. It keeps us from harm, it takes us places we think are too dangerous to go. It wakes us up, it comforts us. This is how we no Jesus and God, now. Reading the Bible and becoming sensitive to the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit, the breath of God. The Ruach, to use the Hebrew phrase, was present at the creation of the world; it was there with Moses on the mountain; It was with John the Baptist before he was even born; it was with Jesus, it WAS Jesus, then, and at Pentecost, it came to be with the rest of the world. It is still with us, and still pushing people to serve in God's name. We are all called to serve God, and the Holy Spirit knows the what and the how, and pushes us toward that goal.
So something's coming for us, too.