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Sunday, December 3rd, 2017
First Sunday of Advent
Angels Among Us: More Hope!
 
Scripture: Luke 1:5-25; 57-80 
(Spoiler alert: Yes, this is a long passage, and a story well worth the read! The Sunday Worship version will be shorter).
 
5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord's commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. 8 One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord's sanctuary and burn incense. 10 All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. 11 An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.

13 The angel said, "Don't be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the Lord's eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. 16 He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

18 Zechariah said to the angel, "How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old."
19 The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in God's presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. 20 Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn't believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen."

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered why he was in the sanctuary for such a long time. 22 When he came out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he gestured to them and couldn't speak. 23 When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. 24 Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, 25 "This is the Lord's doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.
 
57 When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. 58 Her neighbors and relatives celebrated with her because they had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy. 59 On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father's name. 60 But his mother replied, "No, his name will be John."

61 They said to her, "None of your relatives have that name." 62 Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him.

63 After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, "His name is John." 64 At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God.

65 All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. 66 All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, "What then will this child be?" Indeed, the Lord's power was with him.

67 John's father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,

68 "Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69  He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David's house,
70  just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71  He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us.
72  He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant,
73   the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted 
74   that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies 
so that we could serve him without fear,
75   in holiness and righteousness in God's eyes, for as long as we live.
76  You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
      for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God's deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,
     to guide us on the path of peace."
80 The child grew up, becoming strong in character. He was in the wilderness until he began         his public ministry to Israel.

After centuries of waiting, Israel yearns for the decisive, history-fulfilling action of God. Luke portrays this yearning in the infancy narratives of both John the Baptist and his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. These "type scenes" are explored by biblical scholar Raymond Brown in his book, "The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke." All the biblical infancy scenes (Ishmael in Genesis 16, Isaac in Genesis 17 and Samson in Judges 13) announce one who will play a significant role in God's design for the future of God's people (Brown, page 156):
 
1. The appearance of an angel (or of the Lord)
2. The response of fear
3. The divine message
4. An objection
5. A sign given to guarantee the divine announcement
 
The opening scene of Luke's Gospel introduces an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, setting the stage for the annunciation (message from the angel messenger) in the Temple, Zechariah's response, and departure from the Temple, and the conception of the child, the sign that fulfills the angel's announcement.
 
Zechariah, fulfilling an important priestly role (a once-in-a-lifetime honor for any priest) of actually bringing the incense sacrifice to the altar, where the angel appeared to him. He was "terrified, and fear overwhelmed him." The angel tells him to "Fear not," because his prayers would be answered.
 
The prayer he and Elizabeth had prayed for decades was now impossible. They were way too old to have a child, and had long ago given up any hope of that prayer being answered. When the angel announced the blessed event, and even the gender and name of the baby, Zechariah is dubious. "How can this be?" How could he even hope for such a thing?
 
The opposite of hope that shows up as fear is despair. Zechariah knew that life would never be the same, and it left him both fearful and speechless. In the midst of great change, hope is a welcome thing. "Advent can remind us that God makes us ready for whatever unknown may come our way and calls us to be messengers of more hope in and ever-changing world" (Thanks to Dr. Marsha McFee of Worship Design Studio".
 
The angel Gabriel gave Zechariah an early baby shower gift of silence to contemplate the birth of hope in his home and in the world. By the end of chapter one of Luke, he and Elizabeth had a son who would grow to become a messenger of hope for Israel and the world: "Prepare the way of the Lord!" This old couple's long-delayed childbearing parallels the long-delayed coming of the Messiah to God's people, and it happens in the lives of ordinary people who are called to be God's messengers, God's angels, in a world that God is changing for the good.
 
This Sunday, the Rev. John Painter will bring a personal witness at all services, and we will share the celebration of Holy Communion as a sign of hope in the face of fear and despair. Come with anticipation that God has a message for you!
 
With more hope,
LeeAnn
Peace UM Church |  407-438-8947 |  Email | Website
Rev. LeeAnn Inman, Lead Pastor -  Rev. Jim Berlau, Associate Pastor
Sunday Worship Service Times: 8:15, 9:30 & 11:00 a.m.
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