I will serve you

Luke 1:5-64

What did the preacher say when he’d lost his voice? Nothing. He’d lost his voice.

Our reading from Luke is all about lost and found. Mary finds her voice and sings a song for the ages. Tied up with her story is another story about a man who first loses, and then later finds, his voice.

Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist and the wife of Zechariah, a priest of the temple. Their story is one of the two told in the first chapter of Luke. Luke weaves that story and the story of Mary and the angel in and out of each other, and that’s because we need to hear both stories together.

Like Abraham and Sarah before them, Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and childless. Zechariah went to work at the temple one day, and while he was alone in the inner sanctuary, burning incense while the people prayed, an angel appeared at the right side of the altar, scaring poor Zechariah half to death. The angel said, “Do not be afraid Zechariah, your wife will bear you a son and you are to call him John.” The angel then proceeded to tell Zechariah what wonderful things his son would do.

Zechariah had some doubts which, personally, I find both understandable and amusing. On the one hand, he is old and his wife is old and though it is the first century these people do understand basic reproductive biology. It’s a legitimate objection. On the other hand, he’s arguing with an angel that something is not reasonable. I think we’re already outside the realm of empirical reason, and into the mysterious area of miracle.

The angel was not as amused as I am, and got very stern with Zechariah, “I am the angel Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent out to speak to you and tell you the Good News. Because you do not believe what I have said, you shall live in silence, and you shall be unable to speak a word until the day it happens.”

And so it was that Zechariah lost his voice. He was unable to tell anyone, even his wife, what had happened to him at the altar that day. After his time of service in the temple was over, he went home to his wife and she was soon pregnant, but he could say nothing to her about what the angel had told him.

The story then shifts to a time six months later when the same angel Gabriel visits a young peasant girl named Mary. He tells her equally unbelievable news; that she will bear a child.

Mary may be young, but she too knows her basic biology. She’s stunned, “How can this be? I don’t understand?” The angel reassures her that it is true and offers the proof that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant, even though she is beyond her child-bearing years.

As soon Gabriel left her, Mary hurried to visit with Elizabeth. In one of the more charming incidents in the Bible, Luke shows John the Baptist “leaping in the womb,” when Mary arrives; presumably excited over the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.

Immediately after this encounter, Luke shows Mary bursting into song with the words that have come to be known as “The Magnificat” – a poem rich with images from the Hebrew Scriptures about God rescuing the poor, the lonely and downtrodden from their distress.

After Mary’s song is sung, the text turns back to the story of John’s birth. When the Baby was born, the family wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. Elizabeth said, “No, his name is John.” They protested, “But no one in your family is named John.”

So the family stopped arguing with Elizabeth and turned to Zechariah. He took up a tablet and wrote, “His name is John,” and when he made that confession of faith in the promise of God, he found his voice again, and he burst into song, the song of Zechariah.

It is not by accident that Christmas is a time filled with music and singing. When our hearts are full of hope, our mouths are naturally full of joyful praise.

When we embrace fully God’s promise to be with us in the world, when we give ourselves over completely to the miracle that is God’s intrusive love in the world, then we find ourselves with a story to tell and a song to sing.

The Word of God comes to us again this year. God makes promises to come into the world through us, to bless the world through us, to save the world through us.

We can make excuses. We can be like Zechariah was at first, saying, “We’re too old. We’ve already tried that, we know it won’t work.” We can stutter and stumble and run off life’s stage, unable to sing.

Or we can say with Mary, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

And when we do, we will, like Mary and Zechariah, burst forth with words of hope, joy and prophecy; and we will commit ourselves anew to lives of servanthood and love. Amen and amen.

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