(A sermon based on Luke 1:68-79 & Philippians 1:3-11 for the Second Sunday of Advent)
Perhaps you have had an experience similar to mine. I will be asked by my good wife, “Did you see such and such on such and such television show?” I will reply, “No.” And she will say, “But you were sitting right there when it was on.”
There are several possible explanations for that recurring phenomenon. First, perhaps I was dozing. Second, perhaps I was paying attention to something else, like my iPad. Third, and most likely, perhaps I was watching but not seeing; my eyes were open and even pointed in the right direction but my mind and heart were not engaged in what was on the screen.
It’s amazing what you can miss when you aren’t paying attention, when you are not fully present in the moment. If we aren’t careful, we might even miss what God is up to in Jesus Christ—even during this most wonderful time of the year.
That’s ironic because the ability to see what is important is one of the great gifts that can be ours in Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, the ability to see, period, is a great gift that can be ours in Jesus.
Zechariah saw but he didn’t see and because he didn’t see he became unable to speak.
Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth who a descendant of Aaron, Israel’s original priest. Zechariah and Elizabeth were good and faithful people. One day when Zechariah was serving in the temple the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth, who was advanced in years and had been unable to bear children, would bear a son that they would name John who would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. When Zechariah expressed disbelief—he saw but didn’t see, he heard but didn’t believe—Gabriel told him that he would be unable to speak until the child was born. When their son was born and Zechariah affirmed that he was to be named John, as the angel had instructed, he got his voice back; the first thing he that came out of his mouth was the prophetic praise of our text.
Zechariah said that God had shown favor to God’s people by sending a Savior from the house of David, thereby keeping the promises that had been made to Abraham, the great ancestor of Israel. Zechariah furthermore proclaimed that the son that had been born to Elizabeth and him would be the prophet who would proclaim forgiveness of sins and prepare the way for the Savior.
Zechariah furthermore said that the Savior was coming who would, like the dawn’s sun that drives away the night’s darkness, drive away the darkness of sin and the shadow of death that hound and confound us. Because of the light of the Savior we would be able to walk in the way of peace, of wholeness and well-being with God and with others. He shows us the way.
And what is that way that he will show us, that he will make visible to us? It is the way of love. Paul puts it very well in his prayer for the Philippian Christians: “This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). We can love more and more in wiser and wiser ways. We can look for ways that Jesus would have us to love. We can and should always be looking for ways to love and to grow in love.
Some of our beloved stories of the season teach us of the power of love. For example, there is Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas that tells of the mean old Grinch who lived on the mountain up above Whoville and who hated the Whos’ celebration of Christmas so much that one year he decided to steal it and so on Christmas Eve he took all of their Christmas decorations and gifts. Then, so the story goes,
"Pooh-pooh to the Whos!" he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
"They're finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!
"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
"The all the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!"
"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch,
"That I simply must hear!"
So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow...
But the sound wasn't sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
And what happened then...?
Well...in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!
Love caused the Grinch’s heart to grow and he showed that love by making amends, by righting wrongs, and by sharing life with the people around him. I’m not saying that the Grinch became a Christian; I’m just saying that the story shows us the power of love.
This weekend we are sharing in our church’s production of A Christmas Carol. In that marvelous story, Ebenezer Scrooge’s life is changed by the nocturnal visit of three spirits, but really it is love that changes him.
What changed Scrooge was the light that shone into his darkness and what that light showed him was love. And then that light of love showed him how to live in love, how to give and serve and help.
Just think, then, of what a difference the love of God—the love seen in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—can and will make in our lives, particularly if we are on the lookout for ways to share it and to grow in it.
It won’t happen all at once, but we can be growing toward it a little bit every day. We’re a bit like those compact fluorescent bulbs that start dim and get brighter; the light of love starts out dim in us but becomes brighter and brighter and brighter as we live and love.
The light of the world is Jesus. You all are the light of the world. So look for the light. And let your light shine…