Advent in Action: Praise

by Rev. Doug Gray

When you hold a baby what do you notice?

[Take suggestions from the congregation.]

As I held each of my children for the first time, I was struck with wonder. All the potential of all this life wrapped in a small, beautiful bundle that took my breath away. I think that’s happening to Zechariah in our passage for today. Where does Zechariah’s moment take him?

First, holding the new baby takes Zechariah to thanksgiving. He says in verse 68, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us…” But John the Baptist is just a baby…and Jesus isn’t even born! How can Zechariah be thankful for what is yet to come? Sometimes we are just thankful for hope. When Winston Churchill planned out his funeral, he included many of the great hymns. At the end, he asked that a trumpeter be placed high in the church out of sight, and that “Taps” be played. You know how it goes? [hum a bit] Here’s where the twist comes in:  when the bugler finished playing “Taps,” a second bugler hidden on the other side of the church blew out loud and clear the notes of “Reveille.” “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning.”[1] In the middle of their mourning the passing of Winston Churchill, Churchill reminded everyone that another more glorious morning would dawn. For Zechariah, too, though redemption has not come yet, still he praises God and is filled with thanksgiving because of hope.

Second, as he holds the son he never thought he would see, Zechariah tells the baby about the great God he knows. We have all experienced the goodness of God, but sometimes we miss it. Tucked away in The Adventure of the Naval Treaty, Sherlock Holmes is found studying a rose. Watson narrates:  “He walked past the couch to an open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show an interest in natural objects.” “‘There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,’ said he, leaning with his back against the shutters… ‘Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence…But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”[2] Sherlock Holmes tells us something about how great God is, and Zechariah too. In the presence of beauty and wonder, gratitude and joy bubble up in us and we realize not only how small we are, but how great God is. In a sense, we were made to worship—to see the beauty of a rose, to hear the majesty of a symphony, to hold a baby and have our breath catch. As we praise God, we recognize both greatness and our neediness. If we let God’s greatness fill our vision, then with full hearts we have to tell our children and our neighbors how great God is.

Finally, holding a baby helps Zechariah to look at the future differently. When you hold a baby, doesn’t it make you want to make promises? What are some of the promises you might want to make a baby as you hold it?

[Take responses from the congregation. “I’ll keep you safe. You are a miracle! You are wonderful! God loves you! I will never leave you.”

In the musical, Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr sing this amazing duet to their son and daughter as America is just beginning. The chorus of “Dear Theodosia” runs like this:

     You will come of age with our young nation.
     We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you.
     If we lay a strong enough foundation,
     We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you
     And you’ll blow us all away.
     Someday, someday
     Yeah, you’ll blow us all away. [3]

As Zechariah looks at the future, too, he sees amazing things for this child:  “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 gives Zechariah grace to speak those promises—promises that are not Zechariah’s so much as God’s own promises. Babies help us see the future more clearly.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent, when we begin the season of Jesus’ coming. Our season begins with Zechariah holding John the Baptist and praising God, and on Christmas, will reach its climax as Mary holds Jesus, while angels and shepherds praise God. In that baby Jesus, the hope of the world is contained—God born among us, who will grow and offer His life for us. The thing about babies is that we can give thanks, and tell our loved ones how great God is, and even make promises for the future, but unless our lives are changed by them, we will go back to the same old person. Advent calls us to offer our lives up, just as Jesus did, because Advent is not just a time of hoping, but of beginning to make those promises come true. Advent is the beginning of thanksgiving and grace and hope sweeping into our lives and how will we answer? We were made to worship God in good times and bad, to let God mold and shape us into people whose lives are marked by thanksgiving and praise and hope. May we become the future God wants for us and our children.


 

[1]Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, edited by Craig Brian Larson (Grand Rapids: 1993), p. 52

[2]ibid, p. 97.

[3]Leslie Odom, Jr & Lin-Manuel Miranda, HamiltonOriginal Broadway Cast Recording (2015), “Dear Theodosia,” Disc 1, Track 22.