Summary: We need to focus on Jesus during Christmas and ask ourselves if we are giving Him what he wants.
It’s Never About Me
Zechariah’s Prophecy, Luke 1:67-80 Advent week 2, Dec 4, 2011
I’d like to borrow some words of J.B Phillips for my introduction this morning. He was an Anglican most remembered for the Phillips New Testament paraphrase (think The Message, but for the previous generation – he started that paraphrase for his youth group that met in bomb shelters in WW II in England). Here are some of his thoughts on this Advent season:
According to an old saying, familiarity breeds contempt. Of course this is not always true! In particular, it is often not true of people with whom we are familiar. Indeed, with the best kind of friends, the more we know them the more we grow to love and respect them. It is only the people who are superficial and at heart unreal who let us down when we grow familiar with them. It is then that our previous admiration can turn to contempt.
But the old saying was not intended to apply only to human relationships. There are situations where human beings are at first filled with awe, and then as they grow more and more familiar with them they experience first indifference, and then contempt. The spiderman who works on scaffolding hundreds of feet above the ground, has to be on his guard against this over-familiarity. The man who works with high-voltage electricity must also beware of becoming contemptuous of his danger. And anyone who knows the sea will say to you in effect, By all means love the sea, but never lose your respect for it. Whenever familiarity breeds contempt there is potential danger.
The particular danger which faces us as Christmas approaches is unlikely to be contempt for the sacred season, but nevertheless our familiarity with it may easily produce in us a kind of indifference. The true wonder and mystery may leave us unmoved; familiarity may easily blind us to the shining fact that lies at the heart of Christmastide. We are all aware of the commercialization of Christmas; we can hardly help being involved in the frantic business of buying and sending gifts and cards. We shall without doubt enjoy the carols, the decorations, the feasting and jollification, the presents, the parties, the dancing and the general atmosphere of goodwill that almost magically permeates the days of Christmas. But we may not always see clearly that so much decoration and celebration has been heaped upon the festival that the historic fact upon which all the rejoicing is founded has been almost smothered out of existence.
(from Good News: Thoughts on God and Man, copyright 1953, The Macmillan Co., New York.)
Last week we began our Advent journey – a road of waiting with anticipation – by considering some of the characters in the story as Luke tells it at the beginning of his Gospel. I want to return to one of those characters this morning, partly because of a really great conversation we had in our Adult Education time that has returned to me several times this past week. But also because I see in this character an incredible focus at a moment when we would expect something completely different – a model that will help us keep from smothering the very heart of the Christmas story.
And to set up that story, let me ask you to reflect on a little question: when is it OK for life to be centered around you? Surely there are a couple times, at least, right? How about your birthday? How about when you are celebrating some great accomplishment?? What if you are the championship team’s MVP? Your wedding day? How about the birth of your first child – then is it ok to have the focus on you and your baby??
Last week we met Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were, in the words of Luke 1, righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. Then we read the story: Zechariah called to his priestly duty in the temple, chosen for the special privilege of entering the holy place and burning incense as the prayers of the people. Suddenly, POW – Gabriel, the mighty angel, appears out of nowhere and strikes terror into Zechariah’s heart. But wait – it is not a message of judgment, rather Gabriel says Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son. Ya, the old gal, Elizabeth, is going to get pregnant. Zechariah finds it hard to believe, questions the angel, and ends up unable to speak until the child is born. At least 9 months. And, as one astute observer commented last week in our adult ed class, If he was like most husbands, I wonder if Elizabeth noticed.