Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Homily for Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Gaudete (Advent 3)

Luke 1:57-80; Isaiah 35:3-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The name John means “God is gracious.” Truly, God’s grace abounds in both the birth narratives of John the Baptist, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose way he was sent to prepare. As we have heard in past weeks, both conceptions and births were miraculous in several ways, not least of all in the fact that both mothers, Elizabeth and Zechariah respectively, were known to be unable to conceive, as Elizabeth was aged and barren, and Mary was but a young, unmarried virgin maiden. And yet, God was gracious and merciful, and, as He is want to do, He made something out of nothing, He brought life out of death, and both Elizabeth and Mary conceived and bore sons.
On the eighth day after his birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth and all their relatives gathered to circumcise the child according to the Law. They were prepared to name the boy Zechariah, after his father, but his mother Elizabeth answered, “No; he shall be called John.” They were greatly surprised because there was no one in the family named John. Thus, they sought to confirm with Zechariah concerning this name. However, because Zechariah did not believe the Word of the LORD, that his wife would conceive and bear a son, he was stricken mute as a sign that the LORD would keep His promise despite Zechariah’s unbelief. So, they gave him a writing tablet and he wrote, “His name is John.” Zechariah no longer disbelieved. He gave his son the name the angel Gabriel had proclaimed nine months earlier. He believed and he knew without a doubt that God is gracious, and that nothing will be impossible with God.
And, the sign being fulfilled, immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. What Zechariah spoke was actually a prophecy about both his son John and God’s Son Jesus. His words are cherished by the Christian Church and are still sung daily as part of the liturgy of Matins or Morning Prayer under the title “Benedictus,” which means blessed.
The Benedictus is a hymn of praise to God for His grace and mercy visited upon Israel. In the first part of the Benedictus, Zechariah prophesies of Jesus, the Son of God. Zechariah recognized that the greatest gift of God’s grace was not his own son John, but the Son of God, Jesus, whose way John was to prepare. Filled with the Holy Spirit, with not a hint of unbelief, Zechariah spoke of God’s promises as being already fulfilled even in the incarnation of His Son saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
But, then, Zechariah’ prophecy tenderly turned to his own son John, even addressing the child directly saying: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 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 is gracious. That is what the name John means. In the conception and birth of John and Jesus, the grace and mercy of God has been revealed. From the barrenness of mankind’s sin and death, God brings forth new life. Once again, into virgin soil, God has planted His Word and brought forth new and everlasting life. The eyes of the blind are opened. The ears of the deaf are unstopped. The lame leap like a deer and the tongues of the mute sing for joy. Waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. For, nothing is impossible with God.
God is gracious. Therefore, we have hope. God has visited and redeemed His people. It is finished. All we are waiting for is the revelation of His glory, the unveiling of His already present reign and glory. Though His first coming was in lowliness and humility so that many did not see because they did not hear, when He comes again in power and great might, the veil will be removed and every eye will see Him, and every tongue will confess Him to be the Lord, and God the Father will be glorified.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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