Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Homily for Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)

Luke 1:5-25; Isaiah 40:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both from priestly families, they were both advanced in years, and Elizabeth was barren. This unfortunate situation should sound at least somewhat familiar. Indeed, it should sound a lot like Abraham and Sarah of the Old Testament. There are some stunning parallels between Abraham and Sarah and Zechariah and Elizabeth, and there are also some direct inversions.
In contrast to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Abraham and Sarah were both heathens who did not know the LORD. We do not know how long the LORD called to Abraham, but we do know that he heard the LORD and that he trusted Him and left his homeland for a land yet to be revealed. The LORD counted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness, and He made a covenant with Him saying that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
In striking contrast, Zechariah knew the LORD, was one of His covenant children, was of the priestly tribe of the Levites, and served as priest in the temple. Despite all that, Zechariah did not believe the angel Gabriel when he announced that his barren and elderly wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear him a son. This same scenario was played out with Abraham and Sarah, only then, it was Abraham, the husband, who believed, and Sarah, his wife, who did not.
Likewise, in both accounts the heavenly messenger provided the name of the promised child. Abraham and Sarah’s son would be named Isaac, meaning “laughter,” because Sarah laughed at the promise of the LORD. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son would be named John, meaning, “God is gracious,” for He creates life out of barrenness and death.
Accordingly, each patriarch’s faith was tested and a sign was given in confirmation of the LORD’s promise. The LORD commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, only to spare him at the last moment and provide a ram as a substitute, pointing to the sacrifice that the LORD would provide in His Son Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Because of his unbelief, Zechariah was caused to be mute until his promised son was born and was given the name the angel had given, John. Then Zechariah’s lips were opened and he sang forth the great hymn of praise, the “Benedictus,” which the Church sings as part of the Office of Matins. Further, the LORD gave Abraham and his descendants the sign of circumcision as a seal of His promise in Covenant. It was when Zechariah circumcised his son and gave him the name John that his lips were opened and he was able to speak again.
So, what are we to make of these similarities and differences between the accounts of Abraham and Sarah and Zechariah and Elizabeth? Indeed, much! In the account of the promised son of Abraham and Sarah, the LORD could be said to be setting the stage for what He would begin to bring to fulfillment in the promised son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and then complete in His own promised Son Jesus. However, one of the most important things that we can take away is that our salvation is the LORD’s work alone, that it comes from outside of us, not only while we were unaware or not paying attention, preoccupied with our worldly pursuits and fleshly desires, chasing after other gods and idols, but when we didn’t even know that He existed, when we were dead in our sins and trespasses, completely unable to help ourselves, to choose the right way, or to come to the LORD in any way at all.
Abraham and Sarah were heathen, pagans. They did not know the LORD, and, even if they did, they did not recognize Him to be exceptional amongst the pantheon of idols and false gods they worshiped. The LORD called to Abraham; Abraham did not come to the LORD. Abraham believed the Word of the LORD, He trusted in it, and the LORD credited that to him as righteousness. It wasn’t righteousness, but the LORD chose to view it that way. The LORD made a covenant with Abraham, a promise that He pledged to keep and never break. In the account of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we see that the LORD kept and fulfilled His promise. At the birth of John, Zechariah sang forth in the Spirit, that the LORD “remember[ed] His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham.” Zechariah also recognized and confessed that His son of promise, John, would “be called the prophet of the Most High” and that he would “go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins.”
Both sons of promise, Isaac and John, were miracles of the LORD’s grace. Both Sarah and Elizabeth were aged and barren; they could not conceive and their wombs were lifeless. Yet, in the most impossible of ways and places, even in darkness and death, God brings forth life, faith, a people by the creative power of His Word. And, He would do it yet again in the promise of His own Son. For, into a virgin womb His Word would become flesh, having not the taint of a father’s sin. This is the LORD’s doing – it is all the LORD’s doing, all the time – and it is marvelous in our eyes! Slowly, patiently, faithfully, and assuredly, the LORD unwrapped the gifts that He was giving to the men and women and world He created to enjoy communion with Him. We are the thankful and blessed recipients of His grace. “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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