To fully understand the context of today’s Gospel reading we need to back up a few verses. Earlier in the chapter we meet an old Priest named Zechariah and his spouse Elizabeth. This older couple comes from a long line of righteous people, who have faithfully lived a life devoted to God. An important fact about them is that they had no children.
All this would begin to change one day as Zechariah was serving in his duty as priest in the temple, and angel appeared and told him, his wife would have a Son, and they will name him John. “He will be great in the sight of the Lord…He will turn many the people of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before the Lord, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah the righteous and faithful priest told Gabriel that he doubted that all of this would happen. So Gabriel told Zechariah that because he doubted he will be mute unit the day these things occur. Well nine months later, the unthinkable happened and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin gave birth to John. Today’s passage is a hymn or poem of Zechariah’s first words after his son’s birth, his first words after being unable to talk for months. Words that proclaim God is reshaping the faithful’s expectations.
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would
be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And 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.’
EXPECTATIONS IN 1st CENTURY PALESTINE/ZECHARIAH
As we explore this passage today it is worth remembering the expectations that the Israelites of 1st Century Palestine had for what it meant to be redeemed and restored by God through a Savior. Since the days of the fall of Israel and Judah and the since the days of the fall of the Temple, God’s covenant people had been longing for a savior who would restore things back to the glory days.
Zachariah being from an established line of priests would fall right in line with those had an expectation of hope that things would change someday. He faithfully tended to the temple but had to do so carefully and at the mercy of the Roman Empire, because after all they were the ones who set the political and social rules. His theological rules had to walk the line with their rules or there would be consequences. If he had it his way I am sure the temple he tended to would have been the center of power and prestige for all political and social order, however that order and expectation was set and claimed by the Roman Empire and even puppet rulers like Herod. His tradition longed for the days when things would be different; days when his people would not be oppressed and pushed to the margins. His tradition told him a Savior was coming who would restore Israel to the place it deserves.
With all this in mind it is curious why he would doubt the news that Gabriel shared with him that his son would prepare the way for the Lord. It is quite reasonable that he doubted this news of the birth of a son for his wife and him, who would help prepare the way for for the Lord, strictly because their old age made that sound impossible. There is also the possibility that maybe doubt set in on this news because Zechariah had given up on the expectation his ancestors held on to. Maybe he began to doubt that things would ever change.
It is clear from today’s passage that once he has his voice back that he proclaims and sings a different tune. He loudly proclaims that God is at work and God’s activity has reshaped everything that everyone should expect. The first section of language in his poem is one of a savior who will save God’s people from their enemies. This political talk would have been consistent with what Zechariah’s tradition would have proclaimed generations ago since the days of captivity and exile. However as his hymn continues there is a new expectation besides a mighty king who will change the political status quo. Zechariah proclaims this mighty savior will bring salvation from sins and a new kind of peace. He proclaims new words of hope, “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.”
These words of expectation are a foreshadow of things to come through out the gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke reveals that through Jesus’ preaching, healing, and being present with those on the margins that Jesus is rearranging the worldly notions of power. In the Gospel of Luke everyone seems to have their own expectation of who Jesus is and what he will do. Some think he is a prophet, some think he will overthrow the Romans, some think he is only rabble rouser. It is not until the end when the gospel story reaches its climax with the cross and empty tomb that the true expectation is known that Jesus came into the world to save sinners and to bring salvation and peace not just to Israel but to all the ends of the earth.
CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY
Today is Christ the King Sunday. A Sunday where we remember God’s divine activity and purpose of salvation, peace, and love is revealed through Christ. In a world where people are grabbing and reaching for power and control, it is a Sunday where we remind ourselves once again who truly who reigns in the world and in our lives. In a world where we want to conform and create our own expectations for how the world exists, we remember and proclaim that Christ reshapes political, social, and theological expectations.
20th AND 21st CENTURY CHRISTIAN
Over the generations Christians have found themselves struggling to let their belief in Christ the King be center of the world they live in. Just like those Palestinians in the Gospel of Luke, Christians might find themselves creating our own expectations of God in order to avoid Jesus’ words, actions, and call to that rearranges the worldly notions of power. Both the 20th Century and the 21st Century’s political, social, and theological issues have been driven by a self centered culture where one chooses to accommodate their beliefs to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Even in church we have reshaped our own expectations of theology to avoid caring for the world around us.
I want to give Kathy and her latest Doctoral ministry course the credit for introducing me to a story how a self centered or individualistic culture in the U.S. influences the church. History can be lens that we can explore our faith. So I share this story not so we can be judgmental but learn from the church’s faults. In 1946, Southern Baptist preacher Douglas Hudgins became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, where he would serve until his retirement in 1969. During this time as progressive strides were being made in the national realm of Civil Rights (such as Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional), Hudgins was made sure that reactionary measures were taking place in Mississippi.
Hudgins used the power of the pulpit to shift the expectations of the church as it faced new political and social issues in our nation. In Charles’ Marsh’s book God’s Long Summer we learn that Hudgins, “preached a gospel of individual salvation and personal orderliness, construing civil rights activism as not only a defilement of social purity but even more as simply irrelevant to the proclamation of Jesus Christ as God.” This individualistic nature of Hudgins’ theology derived from a place of fear and nurtured a community interested only in its own maintenance and flourishing, which it believed required the constant pursuit of power through maintaining purity and control. Through this narrow view of the Gospel, Christians could focus on themselves and keep a blind eye to the dawn from on high that was happening as civil rights leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis lifted up Jesus’ words of justice, peace, equality, and love that called for rearranging worldly power and the status quo for those on the margins.
This story of history offers us a reminder today how if we are not careful Christ’s followers can veer our own expectations of how God is active in the world especially as we found ourselves confronted with political, social, and theological issues. If not careful we can begin to craft our own narrative so we can stay comfortable. Which is why I am grateful for a Sunday like today, where we remind ourselves who is in charge and what it means to proclaim Christ the King who reigns forever.
CHRIST IS IN CHARGE
When we remember Christ is in charge and Christ reigns in all things in our life, God’s divine activity of healing and hope reshapes the political, social, and theological expectations of this world. When we remember Christ is in charge and Christ love reigns over all things forever we remember that Christ’s love gives us freedom from fear and freedom to serve a world in need. By proclaiming Christ the King, we proclaim that Christ’s power and love revealed through the cross and empty tomb stands against the worldly power. By proclaiming Christ the King, we let Christ set the expectations of our discipleship, not our own desires. By proclaiming Christ the King, we let Christ’s love guide our feet into the way of peace and remember as a church we are called to let love define all our actions and expectations until he comes again.
May we as a church let Christ reshape our political, social, and theological expectations and let love leads us to places and people where mercy, justice, and peace is needed in the world.
As we go from this place and let love lead us with a freedom to serve one another it is quiet possible the powers of the world will resists our efforts, so let us not forget the hopeful words that we have a savior who reigns and who has rearranged all power towards love and is guiding our every step of love towards God and towards our neighbor need…Let us remember the good news, “By the tender mercy of 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”. Alleluia Amen.