Hopes for the Child.
Birth of John the Baptist. June 24th.
Luke 1:57-80 ; Also Acts 13:v14b-26.
Image from www.LumoProject.com
Today, the Church remembers the birth of John the Baptist, born 6 months before his cousin Jesus. The one who grew up to prepare the way for the Lord.
Our theme is about ”Hopes for the Child.”
Many characters are in our gospel reading. When we think about the meaning of the names of the main characters, they add to this sense of God at work.
Zechariah means – God remembers his covenant. Elizabeth – God the Absolutely Faithful One. John – God / Yahweh will show favour; and Jesus to one to whom the prophecy points, Jesus means God Saves or Divine Saviour. God / Yahweh is gracious, and Zechariah’s song of praise is about God’s glorious act of salvation which flows from his grace.
Think about the scenes in that house…
There is joy in the house. Among family and friends. But then a moment of drama, a debate among the relatives and the parents about want name the child was to happen – maybe the naming of your own children was easier, or maybe your relatives also asked – why that name? Was there some awkward silence. Then Zechariah is asked… Tongues are freed. His name is John. Praises are given.
And then after circumcision, a further song of praise to God, a song we know as the Benedictus. It is know as the Benedictus, due to the opening words of the Latin translation.
And in the midst of all of this : the relatives ask –
”What then is this child going to be?”
What will he become? Zechariah’s shares some hopes for his son in the Benedictus.
For our parents and godparents here, I wanted to ask, a few questions for you to think on about your child, children, or godchildren. What are your hopes for your child, your godchild?
And I’d suggest you later share with your spouse about your thoughts and ask what they are thinking.
1.What is your hope for your child or each of your children?
2.What do you pray for, for your child? There may be many things. One example suggested in our gospel – that the Lord’s hand would be upon your child: what this mean? Someone wrote: ”constantly supported by the power of the Lord preserved, led, strengthened. ” (Geldenhuys, Luke, p90 adapted).
3. What desires / dreams has God placed in your heart for them? Psalm 37:4 reminds us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord he will give us the desires of our heart, suggesting that as we delight ourselves in Him he forms in us his desires… what desires as a parent, a godparent is God forming, has formed in you for your child?
4. What do you pray for, about how your child will serve the Lord in the future? A church community is about children, teenagers, young people, adults all serving. Zechariah’s words, say we are saved, so we are free to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness all our days – one way we can pray, that our children will serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness all their days.
5. Finally, do we pray that our children can help prepare the way for the Lord’s return. We can pray for our children to be watching and waiting, but do we pray our children will be used by the Lord to prepare the way? Remember whose story we are hearing here. Zechariah and Elizabeth. If they had been told a year before they would have a child would they have laughed like Abraham and Sarah? But they had been praying. And we remember what is impossible with men and women, can be made possible through the workings of God’s power. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer for your children. Listen to the voice of the Spirit, the desires he may be growing in your heart and let those fuel your prayers. And share what you are hoping, praying, dreaming, with your spouse…or if a godparent, with the parents of your godchild.
Zechariah is clear about his hopes for his child, his dreams, and what he is prophesying about his son. But he has hopes for another child – the One to come, whom his son, will later prepare the way.
I wanted to focus upon one verse in Zechariah’s prophecy.
The old bible translation says:
”Because of the tender mercy of our God whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us to shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Or what we heard earlier:
”because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to use form heaven to shine upon those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (NIV)
Light is something connected strongly with our Lord and what he offers, compared to the situation people are in without him.
Old Simeon in the Nunc Dimittis would say months later, as he held 40 day old Jesus :
”For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all nations; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
When Jesus ministry begins, Matthew writes
”Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” (Matt 4:15-16).
Malachi described the coming of Jesus saying: Malachi 1
”But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”
And when Paul is commissioned he hears the Lord Jesus say to him:
”I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”(Acts 26:16-18).
And then in his own words Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples: ” I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
In many places, we live in areas where there is always some artificial light. For some it is hard to imagine a place where there is no electric lighting, when it is dark, it is dark. Zechariah’s words seek to generate for us, a picture, a picture of travellers, they have been racing, hoping to reach their destination in time, but sun has set, darkness has come, they have stopped, and they do not know what the night brings, the shadow of death language suggests there is a fear of bandits, enemies attacking them, hunting them, or of wild animals. Movies regularly use this imagery of night-time being unpredictable fearful, what will come, what will happen.
In this fearful place. Light dawns. And the way ahead is shown. Christ, the light of the world comes, to humanity as it finds itself powerless, anxious, threatened by powers beyond its strength. The world is cloaked in darkness, in fear, desperate for help to be led into light and life. That is why some call Zechariah’s words A Song of Liberation. He says God has acted, he has come, the fulfilment of and culmination of the OT, John will prepare the way for the Dayspring, the Light of the World to come. Christ comes, darkness is dispelled, and those who receive his light can see clearly the path to peace. What the path to peace means here, is forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Paul writes in Colossians:
”the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves. in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-13).
The darkness fell. Powerless, anxious, threatened. That was the position all of us were in without Christ. Then He came. The way to the path of peace revealed. Never again needing to feel powerless, anxious, threatened, fearful of God. We are in the kingdom of light. We are thankful for what Christ has done, the path he has shown us.
But. We are in the kingdom of light; but darkness still comes – through life events, suffering outside our control, grief, sins of others, age, health. In those times when the shadow of darkness hangs over us, the promise in the Benedictus is applied in those personal times – the rising sun from heavenw ill come to us from heaven to shine to guide our feet into right paths. Christ remains alongside us, with us, he does not leave us when the darkness comes. He is the light of the world. And so in the darkness he is a guide and help in it, or the one who dispels it. The situation may not change, but perhaps our perspective changes, or things are healed or removed from within us, which is generating the anxiety towards the darkness that is gathering.
These are dramatic images. Alone in darkness. Then Christ comes to rescue. Dramatic images of how God sees the world we live in, of what it is like without Him. Dramatic images of what we enjoy now. And we know He is always with us.
And we know when darkness comes, his light will shine or he will be there when the darkness comes.
Shall we pray…