Synopsis: During turbulent times, it is tempting to believe that God is no longer in control and that our dreams are lost. Zechariah believed his dream of having a son was lost, but he ultimately learned to be at peace by trusting God no matter how impossible things may appear. How can we learn his lesson and enjoy the peace of Zechariah?
Scripture: Luke 1:68-79
When we look out there at what’s going on in our country and in our world today, we can understand why many people are embracing a variety of doomsday scenarios. Even for us Christians, it is difficult to remain calm, keep the faith, and trust that God is in control. The coming of the Christ into the hearts of all seems to be an impossible dream in stormy times like this.
How do find peace in these times? That’s what our scripture reading is all about. It’s about a man who found peace after he experienced firsthand the awesome power God to make what he thought was impossible, not only possible, but real. In his arms, he was holding his “impossible son.”
Let’s review the story leading up to our scripture reading for today – a story I’m sure many of you know well. The gospel writer Luke tells us Zechariah was a priest and his wife, Elizabeth, was a descendent of Aaron, the brother of Moses and founder of the priesthood. They were both righteous in the eyes of God, but they had no children because Elizabeth was barren.
One day when Zechariah was offering incense to the Lord in the sanctuary, he saw a vision of an angel, who told him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and he was to be called John. The angel told Zechariah many wonderful things about his future son – that he would be great in the Lord’s sight, filled with the Holy Spirit from conception, and turn many back to God with the spirit and power of Elijah.
Zechariah questioned the angel’s news because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both elderly. The angel introduced himself as Gabriel, a messenger sent from God. Then he tells Zechariah that, because he did not believe the Lord’s words, he will be mute until they are fulfilled. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth conceived and spent five months in seclusion.
Then Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit her. Mary had also been visited by an angel, who told her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, whom she was to name “Jesus.” The child in Elizabeth’s womb jumped at the sound of Mary’s greeting.
Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed a blessing over Mary and the child in her womb and also wonder as to why the mother of the Lord would visit her and make the child within her womb leap for joy. Mary stayed with Elizabeth until she gave birth, then she returned to her home in Galilee.
After eight days, it was time for the child to be circumcised. People thought the parents would name the child after his father, Zechariah, but Elizabeth said, “No, he is to be named John.” The relatives couldn’t figure out where the name John came from since no one in the family was named John.
So, they asked Zechariah what he wanted to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” At that moment, his tongue was loosened, and he began to prophesize. And that brings us to our scripture reading for today, known as Zechariah’s song.
Zechariah first praises God for being faithful to his covenant with the people of Israel. He is looking back into history – a long history of subjugation and slavery. The people languished in Egypt under the heavy yoke of slavery for over 400 years. God sent Moses to free them, and he led them to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.
But once they were in Canaan, they often sinned against the Lord. The Lord warned them to repent through many prophets, but they ignored the prophet’s warnings and persecuted the prophets. As a result, Israel was defeated in turn by the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans.
Their glory days under King David and King Solomon were short-lived, but now, God was promising them a Savior from on high who would set them free from their enemies once and for all and whose kingdom would have no end. Zechariah professes that he can see through his prophetic eyes this Savior coming out of the house of David. The time was coming when the people of God would be able to live in peace.
Zechariah ends his song by praising God that his “impossible son” John would be the one to prepare the way for God’s promised Savior.
I think it is safe to say that Zechariah learned an important lesson – a tough one, but a very good one, because in the end, he found peace. How can we learn from his lesson and enjoy the peace of Zechariah?
Well, first of all, an angel of the Lord announced that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and Zechariah responded by speaking words of doubt. We can’t blame him. The observable facts made it appear to be impossible indeed. Not only were they both quite advanced in age, but Elizabeth had always been barren. A double-whammy!
The angel’s response to Zechariah’s doubt was basically, “Look dude, I’m coming to you with a message straight from God Almighty and telling you that you’re going to have a son, okay?” At that point, Zechariah would no longer speak words of doubt – because he couldn’t speak at all. He was struck mute.
Doug and I were talking a few weeks ago about how today’s video games are a good metaphor for life – especially the open world role-playing ones. I enjoy playing a game called Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls. In this game, I can create my character down to the slightest detail – such as the thickness and placement of the eyebrows – or eyebrow. Yes, you can even create a character with a unibrow! My current character’s name is Xena. She does not have a unibrow, in case you were wondering.
Anyway, this game takes place in a world called Skyrim on a continent called Tamriel. Through Xena’s travels and interactions, I can experience the many different regions and cities in Tamriel, and I can interact with its many different citizens – characters of different races, religions, political affiliations – and some with very strange personalities.
Through Xena, I can make all kinds of choices throughout the game, for good or evil, and experience the consequences of each choice. But no matter what, I can’t make a choice that would alter the basic plot. For example, there are certain characters in the game that never die no matter how much they are attacked because they are an important part of the story. They are called “essential characters.”
So, while players of these games enjoy a great deal of free will, they can’t do anything to alter the basic plot or destroy the game itself. That’s smart, right? How foolish it would be for the game designers to create a game that allowed players to either mess-up the plot or destroy the game itself?
I think we can trust that God is at least as intelligent as these game designers. He designed Life in such a way that gave his created characters a great deal of free will, but he did not give them the power to mess up his plan or destroy Life itself.
I think that’s what the angel was trying to explain to Zechariah. John was an essential character in God’s plan, so John was going to show up at the appointed time – no matter how impossible it seemed. God, in his infinite mercy, put a lid on Zechariah’s words of doubt because he didn’t want John’s pure soul to hear them or subject Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, to hearing them.
You know how painful it is to be around negative Ned’s and Nancy’s. Whenever they speak their negative thoughts, you get a sinking feeling in your gut. That sinking feeling is literally your soul recoiling from the doubtful words because it knows that nothing is impossible with God.
To have the peace of Zechariah, we need to strike mute any words of doubt. Don’t give voice to them. Now, it’s natural to have thoughts of doubt. We can’t control the thoughts we have. But we can choose not to give them a second thought, and we can certainly control whether they come out of our mouths.
Zechariah began his song by reviewing the times God saved Israel from their enemies and his trust in God to save them from all their enemies. The Jews of his time believed that their foreign enemies were the Romans, the Samaritans, and the gentiles. Domestically, the Pharisees might have viewed the Sadducees as their enemies, and the Zealots, of course, were radical terrorists who believed that anyone who didn’t support their cause was the enemy.
Who are our enemies? If we were to go to the Stroud mall or the Crossings to ask people this question, they might say our foreign enemies are China, North Korea, and Al-Quaeda, and our domestic enemies are home-grown terrorists, and depending on who you talk to, Democrats or Republicans. We’re not much different today from the Jews of Zechariah’s time. They believed their enemies were “out there” – just as many do today. We have always been wrong about this. Our true enemy has never been “out there.” It has always been “up here.” (point to the head)
We truly do have a split mind – the Mind of Christ and the mind of me – the angel on the sitting on the right shoulder, and the devil on the left. The mind of me is our true enemy because it contains all of the false ideas we have about who we really are. Our Lord drove a stake right into the heart of the mind of me through his death and resurrection. Because of our Lord’s brave and loving sacrifice, the mind of me has been slowly losing its domination of the human mind.
The mind of me clings to its false identities and to the same-old-same-old. It hates change of any kind because it is afraid of the unknown. It’s afraid of the unknown because it doesn’t trust life. It doesn’t trust life because life doesn’t cater to it. Life doesn’t cater to it because Life caters to the soul. But the mind of me has no clue that the soul even exists. What a quandary! No wonder it’s always so frustrated!
The Mind of Christ knows who we really are and the true purpose of Life: the growth of the soul. Now, the soul can feel enslaved under certain conditions – a job we hate, a bad relationship, or even a false notion we might hold about ourselves. We might hear the cry of the soul for change, but the mind of me will convince us to ignore it – usually by filling us with fear – or shame.
If we ignore the soul’s cry for too long, the soul will find a way to forcibly liberate us from the situation. Something unexpected will happen, and we’ll be forced out. It’s usually a painful experience for the personal self, but we often realize later down the road of life, perhaps even many years later, that it was the best thing that ever happened to us. It set us free in some way so that we could continue to grow.
Can you remember a time in your life when you were stuck? Maybe you didn’t even know you were stuck at the time. But then something out-of-the-blue happened, and you were set free? And then later down the road, you realized that you ended up in a far better place in life because of it? That was God keeping his promise to save us from our enemies.
Now I want you to enlarge that experience beyond the individual soul and realize this same experience can happen to the collective soul of humanity. The soul of humanity is enslaved in many ways. The soul of humanity is stuck in many places that are not good for the collective whole. For starters, we are stuck when it comes to getting along with one another, and we are stuck when it comes to ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are met.
The soul of humanity has been crying out for a long time, and I believe that God’s answer to that cry is now moving quickly toward fulfillment. The old systems that have enslaved us – that have kept us stuck in these harmful places – are crumbling. This process is very frightening and painful for the personal self – especially those who are enslaved by the mind of me. Things will eventually change for the better for everyone, but in the process, we may experience some turbulence.
To have the peace of Zechariah, we must trust that God will save us and ultimately all of humanity from our true enemy. We are all in a good place for these stormy times. We are becoming more and more aware the mind of me and the true purpose of life. But most people have no idea that they are enslaved by the mind of me, so life is very frustrating – perhaps even meaningless – to them.
Can you imagine how difficult their lives must be? Let us have compassion for them and forgive them instead of judging them to be the enemy. We can also have compassion for ourselves and forgive ourselves in our struggles with the enemy too.
Zechariah ends his song with the words, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” God’s way is the way of peace. The enemy’s way is the way of conflict. We can’t have both. That was John’s message. He prepared the way by saying to people, “It’s time to make a choice. Which way do you choose?”
Those who came to John to be baptized had not only chosen God’s way of peace but also were already living that way for some time. They had made a commitment, and they convincingly demonstrated to John that their commitment wasn’t just words. Otherwise, John would not have baptized them.
We must be willing to make the same commitment – to “turn the other cheek,” a teaching which really means to listen to the voice of peace, not the other voice, the voice of conflict, that devil that wants you to strike out at life. Turn the other cheek and listen to the angel, the voice inside your heart.
To have the peace of Zechariah, we must have unwavering commitment to God’s path of peace. We must have peace with life by accepting the fact that life always goes our way – always – it always grows the soul. The mind of me will grumble. Just notice the grumbling with the understanding that the mind of me will never get it. Don’t agree with it, and don’t disagree with it. Just don’t give it a second thought.
To walk God’s way of peace, we must love the Mind of Christ more than the mind of me. We must be willing to sacrifice the desires of personal self for the desires of the soul – for the desires of the soul of Life. And we must have unwavering trust that no matter how things appear, God is in control.
When we can live this way 100% of the time, we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is much closer than we think. Yes, we don’t have to wait until we die to experience heaven or wait for all of humanity to accept the Christ into their hearts. We can experience the bliss of heaven now because it is within us. The door is waiting to be unlocked, and the key is peace.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to walk God’s way of peace. We desire the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Be with us in our struggles with the enemy. Fill us with unwavering trust that God is in control and moving us ever closer to freedom.
McLarty, Philip. “Sermon| Luke 1:68-79| Zechariah’s Song.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-168-79-zechariahs-song-mclarty/
West, Audrey. “Commentary on Luke 1:68-79.” Workingpreacher.org, 6 Dec. 2009, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-2