Elderly Elizabeth and elderly Zechariah had no children. Elizabeth prayed for a child; and Zechariah received a vision of the future child that struck him deaf and mute.
This elderly couple have been waiting, and waiting, nine long months. For the last few months, Elizabeth’s young, young relative Mary has been pregnant. Mary has said the child is the Son of God, and the baby inside Elizabeth jumped with joy.
Now at last the time has come for that happy jumping baby to be born – and for more miracles happen!
It was a miracle that this elderly couple who’d never been able to have children suddenly became pregnant.
It was a miracle that took Zechariah’s speech and hearing: but he hasn’t been able to communicate what occurred yet.
It is a miracle that in a time when great numbers of healthy, young teen women die in childbirth, this elderly frail woman gives birth without complications to a healthy little boy.
But the miracles aren’t done yet.
Usually, people ask the father in ancient Jewish societies: What will be the name of the child? By naming the child, the father affirms the child is his own and part of his household.
But Elizabeth breaks custom. She declares, “This child is named John.” Which means, God is Gracious— God is generous and good.
The people around Elizabeth cry out, “John?! There are no ‘Johns’ in your family! Shouldn’t he be Zechariah Junior? Or named after your father, or your brother? Someone, go try to ask Zechariah!”
So they go to elderly Zachariah, and “make signs at him.” Zechariah motions for a writing tablet, and writes, “His name is John.”
Now the whole town is in an uproar! Zachariah chose the same name – had he been able to talk with Elizabeth before hand – or did he miraculously choose the same name?!
Everyone begins to ask: Who is this boy? What will he become?
We normally ask the same questions of all children – who is this child? What will this child become as an adult? But the town’s people are asking this in fear. They are scared. What do these signs mean and just who is this kid?
And to their even greater astonishment and fear: Zechariah’s lips and ears open and he can talk and hear again. And he says today’s prophecy in Luke:
“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 by the forgiveness
of their sins.
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.”
And Zechariah recounts how God has always been faithful, always done as God has promised, and always remembered the holy covenant between people and God — this mutual promise of love and support between people and God.
Zechariah speaks of God’s salvation, forgiveness, tender mercy… and calls his son God is Gracious. Zachariah speaks of peace to the people’s fear. He foretells the salvation of God’s people through a revelation that will teach them to walk in the way of peace.
For the first of many times in Luke’s gospel, salvation and peace, God’s kindom and peace, are tied together. As we spoke in our call to worship: If there is to be peace in the world… there must be peace in the heart.
And peace of heart, for peace for the home, neighbors, city, nation and world is what John is to announce is coming. A peace that transcends all understanding. A peace from God God’s self.
John, little baby John, being raised by people old enough to be his grandparents, shall be the one who announces the coming of the Lord.
And we know John grows up and does just this – through John, God prepares the way for God’s own self becoming incarnate in John’s relative Jesus. The two don’t seem to grow up together — John is raised in the wilderness, and doesn’t know who Jesus is when Jesus comes to be baptized — but these two surely are walking with God and the great work God begins in them before they are even born continues even to this very moment.
This great work is preparing the world for the Day of Christ; the kin-dom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven; preparing the world for peace.
Before we begin singing ‘Give Peace A Chance’ or ‘Kumbaya’ … You may remind me that Jesus said in Matthew “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
… And an pretty angry Jesus literally chased people with a whip.
… And Jesus told his disciples in Luke to sell their cloaks for swords.
Perhaps the way of peace is divisive. Perhaps the way of peace is like a sword, and it cuts — divides – sharpens.
We often think peace is the same as stillness. A peaceful Christmas night is a night of quiet snow, twinkling bright stars, and a holy hush broken only by the sound of our breath.
But the way of peace, the road of God, is rarely still and motionless. The way of peace challenges the way things are. Think of these “peaceful” moments of the Bible:
The angels who announce the birth of Christ SING “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all.” The sky is full of their song and delight. This peace is active, lively, bright – and scares the shepherds. But their song of peace prepares the way for the shepherds to greet the born Messiah and share the good news.
The peace Jesus gives others causes great unrest. Remember when the sinful woman with the expensive perfume busts into the dinner banquet to weep on Jesus’ feet and anoint them with the perfume and her kisses. What a stir she caused! What a lack of peace! How could someone so dirty, so foul, touch a prophet?! And Jesus, instead of being angry with her, praises her deeds, tells her that her sins are forgiven, and says, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
And the woman dragged into court before all the men, dragged before Jesus and accused of adultery – the crowd stated: we must stone her to death, right Jesus? But Jesus was peaceful, and quietly replied, “Let the one without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And bit by bit, beginning with the eldest of the men, the crowd left until just she was left in the center of the court. And Jesus said he did not condemn her, and let her go in peace.
Peace, Jesus tells the men on the way to Damascus.
Peace, Jesus insists when Judas betrays him and Jesus’ disciples try to raise swords to defend Jesus.
Peace, Jesus shows in the courts.
Peace, for Jesus, is actively doing justice, actively forgiving, actively bringing not stillness – but peace to our souls.
A peaceful soul is a soul that has listened to the little small voice of the Holy Spirit which ever whispers inside us.
The peaceful soul is a soul with a clear conscious.
And that peaceful soul is likely NOT living a passive life. A peaceful soul is a soul that is living an active and engaging life actively bringing about peace, justice, truth and clearing the way for God’s salvation, God’s grace, to shine ever brighter on the world.
A peaceful soul is a soul that is walking on peaceful feet, doing peaceful deeds, and always on the move spreading God’s shalom.
What is shalom?
It is more than what peace means in English. And shalom is what we’re translating as peace in our Bible.
Shalom is completion. Wholeness. Full health. It is having every dish clean and matching. It is a perfect sunset on a perfect day. It is a engine that always starts on the first try. It is a completed card or DVD collection. It is to be restored. To be washed clean of sins. It is to fall into the loving embrace of someone who you’ve made amends with and KNOW all is well.
This peace, this shalom, is, as Dr. Plantgina writes, “universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes [all]… it is the way things ought to be.”
This active, moving, lavish peace John came announcing, Jesus made possible, and we are invited to share.
So get up and use your peaceful feet this week! Share shalom. Amen.