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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Advent 12/6

It think it was the first year I was in L’Anse when I wrote a newsletter article suggesting that during the season of Advent one should try to find time for quiet, time to get away from what can become frantic preparation for Christmas, time for prayer and reflection on the meaning of the Incarnation, the significance of the Word becoming flesh.  Amid all the commercialization surrounding secular Christmas, it seemed like a reasonable suggestion, something that most people would agree was a good idea even if they didn’t do it. 

I think most people did find it to be a reasonable suggestion, even if they didn’t do it, but one woman reamed me out for having no idea what I was talking about, that being a male I knew nothing about Christmas preparation and everything that women have to do to make Christmas happen for their family, that it was unfair and unrealistic for me to write an article about quiet time during Advent.  She was so upset that she wrote an article the next year for the Synod newsletter talking about the awful article her pastor had written the previous year.  If you were getting the synod newsletter back then you might have read it; if so, now you know who she was talking about.

I still think it was a reasonable suggestion.  She was right that I don’t know much about everything that goes into Christmas preparation, all the cooking and baking and shopping; I don’t do much of that; but it’s not like I take the month of December off either.  I think that for any of us, a little escape from the busyness of the season, a little quiet, is a good suggestion.  Actually, it’s a good suggestion anytime, because spiritually, amazing things sometimes happen during times of intentional quiet, times that aren’t full of busyness and talk, times not full of words and sounds and distractions coming from you and at you from all directions.  Even in worship and in prayer, we tend to do a lot of talking at God, but we find it much more difficult to be quiet and listen; it tends to make us uncomfortable, at least I know it does for me.

The way Luke’s gospel tells the story of Zechariah, he wound up with plenty of quiet time and for him it was apparently time that he made good use of.  Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist, and the words he spoke at the time of John’s birth and naming are what was used as the Psalm today, what we call the Benedictus because of its opening words, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.”  Zechariah had had plenty of time to think about what he was going to say though, nine months or so, having been struck mute when he questioned the words of the angel Gabriel who told him that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son despite the fact that she had never before been able to have a child and despite the fact that they were both quite old; and this child, the angel said, would become a remarkable man who would turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  With the spirit and power of Elijah whose return they looked for, he would turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 

“How will I know this is so?” was Zechariah’s question to this seemingly impossible announcement, and because of his question Gabriel told him that he would be unable to speak until the child was born.

Zechariah needed that time, that quiet time.  He needed time to think about the possibility of God being active in his life because he may have reached a point where he didn’t think such involvement was possible anymore.  Or maybe he was at a point in life where he didn’t really want God’s involvement.  He and his wife Elizabeth were good people, righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.  She was a descendent of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and he was a priest in service to the Lord.  It may be that they had prayed for many years to have a child but maybe now in his old age, Zechariah was just looking to live out his days.  At that point in his life, perhaps he just didn’t care that much about anything new happening. 

His lack of joy at this announcement is not really hard to understand; but as a result he would have nine months of relative silence to consider the words of the angel, and as I said, he apparently used this time of waiting and watching and wondering very well because when he finally does speak the words are quite beautiful and meaningful.  First he used words from the psalms, “Blessed be the Lord,” and then he looked back to the prophecies concerning the savior to come from the house of David, actually going back even further than that to the promises made to Abraham.  This was all stuff that Zechariah would have known from his youth, promises and stories he was familiar with, but he needed that time of quiet to be reminded and to bring it back into focus. 

Following those words, Zechariah himself becomes the prophet, restating the announcement of the angel about who this child would become, a prophet to go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.  At that point Zechariah might have been prophesying to himself as much as anyone; in his time of quiet, living in his old age in what he thought was the shadow of death, he had seen the light.  

Zechariah had a chance to consider the path of his life and the role of God in his life.  He had time to think about what he believed and what he didn’t believe and about the fact that maybe God wasn’t through with him yet.  Undoubtedly in worship he had proclaimed God’s ability to do wondrous things time after time but now he had become aware of just how wondrous those things could be in his own life; he was finding that God’s plans for him were not necessarily his plans for himself.  After some quiet, he was seeing things differently.

I think that many of us have a bit of Zechariah in us, Zechariah before he was struck mute.  He had reached a point in his life where his faith and his worship was just something he did; he was obedient to the rituals and the observances, but it didn’t mean much anymore, it was just something he did.  If asked, he would certainly have professed faith in the Lord, but he really didn’t expect the Lord to do anything and like I said, maybe he really didn’t want the Lord to do anything except leave him alone and let him live out whatever time he had left.

During Advent we hear stories about God’s activity with various people.  Prophets receive words from the Lord, Zechariah and Mary are visited by angels, shepherds are visited by angels.  We hear about John the Baptist who was especially in tune with God’s presence in his life.  Like Zechariah, we know all these stories; we’ve heard them before, we believe them, but we don’t expect such things to happen to us.  We don’t expect and maybe don’t want God or God’s representatives that up close and personal.  And…if such things did happen to us, would we even know it or would we be too busy to recognize it? 

Like Zechariah, we’re obedient, we come to church, we worship, we confess our faith, but do we really think about what God is doing in our life?  We wonder sometimes why God’s presence and activity seemed so real to people back them, and for the most part we probably just dismiss it as having been a different time when things like that happened more often.  I think though, that part of it has to do with the fact that even if they weren’t struck mute like Zechariah, their lives were quieter; every moment wasn’t filled with sounds and distractions and busyness.  There was more of an opportunity to be attentive to the ways God might be trying to get your attention to tell you his will for your life. 

If you never take time to be quiet, to pray, to listen, to ponder and reflect on the meaning of the familiar stories of a season like Advent, if you never do that you might be missing God’s activity and presence in your life, missing God’s words to you.  This is a busy time of year for most everyone, a busy time of preparation; but I stand by my suggestion that it would be meaningful if your preparation included some time of quiet away from the busyness.  You might be surprised at what happens.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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