Luke 1: 5-25
Imagine, if you will, a sanctuary like the one you worship in now, or where you may have worshipped at one time, or one you may remember seeing at a friends’ wedding. But instead of maybe their being a rail in front of the place where the preacher normally stands, or at the place where there is a step up, you see a blank wall. Inside that wall, there is still furniture and such related to worship, but you don’t know that. What you know is that there is a priest that goes behind that wall with incense at one point of the worship of God, and comes back out a few minutes later. You’re out front praying, or chanting psalms, or singing something.
Now imagine your minister (or whomever you’ve put into that role) going in, just like every other week, to do the duty of the incense, but he’s delayed in coming back out. It’s confusing, and maybe the psalms or the prayers trail off…until it’s silent.
Then the minister comes out, and its obvious something’s wrong, because now, he is unable to talk. He motions to his throat, to his mouth, his eyes are all wide, and he can’t say anything.
How weirded out would be? How would you feel? Would you be scared as you sat in that pew? Would you be irritated? Would you wonder what went on behind that wall?
When this happened to Zechariah in our story today, it was obvious to the congregation then that something supernatural had happened, but they couldn’t know what, because old Zechariah couldn’t tell them. But while they would have said something supernatural happened, we would want to send our minister to the psychiatrist. If your minister couldn’t speak, what would be the point in his or her staying in the job?
Now Zechariah’s situation is different-he wasn’t required to preach, like we are. He could perform his duties without his voice. His worship was different, in that the Temple was the only place where this worship could be performed. The only place where sacrifices could be made.
So if Zechariah comes out unable to talk, his congregation is pretty savvy, and it’s clear to them that something happened in there. It’s just not obvious to anyone what that is yet.
It’s not anyone’s radar that this is the opening step in the story that will culminate in the Messiah’s birth. That a couple, “getting on in years”, suddenly find themselves pregnant, and that this child will be the sign of who is to come after? That is TRULY not on anyone’s radar. In facts folks won’t figure that out until after Jesus is almost gone, and they start looking back at the prophecies.
There are lots of wierdnesses in the present, lots of things people don’t understand. The unknown is happening. Why are they happening? No one knows. For some people, that’s scary, and they want answers to settle their minds. Sometimes we buy into the interpretations, and the interpretations are usually wrong. Sometimes they are true, but usually not.
We’re in a time of preparation. Advent is time where we are to remember the need to sit and wait and watch. Some of my colleagues flip out a little bit when their churches want to sing Christmas carols in this time, and we know we’ve been hearing Christmas music in retail stores for weeks now.
We’re not good at waiting. We’re not good at ambiguity. We’re not good at trusting that things will happen in their time. We’re not good with delayed gratification. We can now eat Mac and Cheese in 90 seconds. Popcorn in about 2 minutes. We can download a full album of music in about 5 minutes, with a decent internet connection.
When Van Halen’s album 1984 came out, I was in high school. I had been looking forward to it for weeks, and the day it was released, I rode my bike up to the record store (Wonderland, in Newark, DE), in the rain, with a plastic bag inside my backpack, so I could buy that album on it’s release date. It was something I’d looked forward to for months, and would have gone through a wall to get it that day! I was so excited! Today, I might still be excited, I might still wait anxiously, but now I can just buy it through iTunes and never even have to get a drop of rain on me. ( Further illustration: as I was preaching this sermon at Throop UMC, I couldn’t remember the name of the album. While I continued with the sermon, one member pulled out her smart phone and Googled it for me, and was able to tell me the title of the album before the end of the sermon!)
We don’t have times of waiting and sacrifice and effort like that as much anymore. So Advent gets to be harder, and harder for us. It becomes almost a spiritual discipline to task ourselves with waiting, and watching, and praying. To actually have to wait for something; to wait for a roast in a slow cooker? To smoke a good brisket for 24? Fugeddaboutit.
But the story of advent asks us to wait. It tells us that things will become clear in time. Not now. What’s weirder is that we are waiting for something that has already come. We are commemorating events that have already passed. We know all the answers to the questions that the people in the story don’t. We are not really waiting for the baby Jesus to be born.
Advent is a time of waiting. But for us in this time, it is also a time of learning how to wait. And it is good to wait. It’s hard to l know this, hard to prove this, but it is good to wait. It is good to notice that Zechariah can’t talk. But while we will know eventually why he lost his ability to speak, it is good to not know immediately.
It’s good to let things simmer. To let things ferment. It’s good to wait.
May this Advent season teach you a lesson or two about patience.