Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Dona Nobis Pacem
Lessons of Luke, a four-week Advent sermon series on Luke 1
Week 4 of 4, preached December 20, 2020 for the 9:30am Worship
Today is the last Sunday of Advent, the season before Christmas. The word Advent means coming to or coming toward, and we’ve been waiting and preparing for God to come to us… as a babe born in a manger, as a teacher, brother, and friend, and as ruler of God’s eternal blessed community.
For this Advent, we are learnings Lessons of Luke, chapter 1. What was it Luke thought we should know before Jesus was born in Luke Chapter 2?
Rev. Caitlan started at the beginning of Luke 1, where an angel visits Zechariah to announce the birth of John to him and Elizabeth. Zechariah isn’t sure, doesn’t believe, and loses his voice until what the angel promises comes true. Caitlan wondered why this part of story feels so new to us, and asked us if we could open our ears and minds to hear the Christmas story in a new way this year.
Two weeks ago, Mary was visited by an angel announcing the birth of Jesus. We were reminded, an encounter with God is scary, but fear is not the point of God’s visit. With God, we are invited to respond like Mary, in faith, not fear.
Last week, Mary visited Elizabeth and was welcomed. We saw how the radical welcome and hospitality of Elizabeth gave Mary hope for her uncertain future, and we imagined being a church that shows that kind of welcome and hospitality to all who ever come here.
Today, we finish Luke 1, with the birth of John the Baptist. Let’s pray, then listen for the word of the Lord…
Scripture Luke 1:57-80
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown (his) great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give (the boy). 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed.
64 Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become? For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was upon him.”
67 Then his father Zechariah (was) filled with the Holy Spirit (and) spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for God has looked favorably on God’s people and redeemed them.
69 God has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of God’s servant David, 70 as God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the reach of all who hate us.
72 Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered God’s holy covenant, 73 the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before God all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and John was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
Sermon Dona Nobis Pacem
There have been arguments between Jill and me over our years together where I walk away from them dumbfounded and silent. Jill will make her point so perfectly, so poignantly that I doubt my own stance, and am at a loss for words. Usually, when I come back around to speaking again, I’ve come all the way around, agreeing with her.
Zechariah has that moment. He is silent for months. When he finally speaks again, it is to agree with his wife. I wonder if there are spouses, partners out there who would appreciate some Christmas silence from their significant other until the next time they spoke, there was only agreement. That would make for some beautiful Christmas peace.
This unbelievable promise of a child and this time of silence and reflection have Zechariah seeing things he didn’t see before. In losing his ability to speak, and apparently his ability to hear… the guests have to motion to Zechariah to see what name he prefers… his sense of sight and understanding have grown sharper.
He’s a priest, so he has learned and retold many times the stories of God’s promises… in creation, through the generations, through leaders, through prophets who challenged and corrected those leaders. He’s taught and practiced rituals of worship and song, so the people could know and trust God and God’s promises, and help build God’s community of holiness and righteousness.
But Zechariah hadn’t made these connections yet, until he was forced into silence and quiet, and shown a miracle in his own family, the birth of a son, and shown another miracle for the world, the coming birth of a savior to Mary.
In his words, what theologians and scholars often call the Benedictus, Zechariah reveals the new way he sees the world, and our purpose in it.
God is awesome. God is amazing. God is faithful yet again. Just like God promised from Abraham to Kings through the prophets, a new leader is being born, and all God’s people will be saved… from our enemies, from the reach of those who oppress or hate us, from sin itself. It was beginning to feel like God had forgotten us, forgotten God’s promises, or given up on us. But no, God has remembered. We really are being rescued from our own sinfulness and from the sins of others upon us. This little child will clear the path for a savior and will prepare the people and teach the people about God’s mercy and forgiveness that is coming. Those who feel darkness around them, even the shadow of death, will see the light and will be led onto the path toward peace. We will all serve God, without fear, in holiness, and justice, all our days.
That’s what Zechariah saw and says. His months of silence and reflection helped him make those connections. Once upon a time, he looked upon his life, life itself, differently. Now, he sees a new purpose and meaning to his life, to life itself. We are meant to serve God without fear in holiness and justice all our days, and move all things onto the path toward peace.
That’s why Zechariah is a priest. That’s why Elizabeth is a mother. That’s why John is born. That’s why Jesus is being born. That’s why all priests, preachers, pastors exist. That’s why all people of faith exist… to serve God, without fear, in holiness, and justice, all our days, as we move all things closer to God’s promised peace.
Peace is the ultimate goal.
Worship of God is important, but not the goal. Worship of God is a way we get onto the path and how we help move us and all things toward peace.
Holiness, being holy, is important. Holiness means we follow God’s commandments. We are honest. We are generous. We share and are compassionate and empathetic. Those are traits of the holy, but holiness is not the goal. Holiness is a tool we use to move ourselves and all things toward peace.
Righteousness, justice, is important. Righteousness, justice means equity and equality of opportunity, fair treatment. We make right old wrongs never resolved. We ask forgiveness, and we make amends. We confess, and admit, and accept consequences. We punish the wicked, confront the liar, repay the losses caused by cheats and frauds, and we tend the brokenness caused by greed and violence. But righteousness, justice is not the goal. Justice is a tool we use to move ourselves and all things toward the goal of peace.
Throughout the rest of Luke, we will hear this goal of peace repeated over and over.
To the shepherds, 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[a] praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace…”
When Simeon, the temple priest, circumcises Jesus, he praises God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace…”
When the sinful woman anoints Jesus’ feet with oil and is judged by the Pharisees, or when the hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed, he says to both of them, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
He tells the disciples, “wherever You go, offer Peace to the people you meet, and perhaps they receive it. But if not, let Peace remain with you.
When Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowd says, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Bringing the Peace of heaven.” The Pharisees tell them to stop, and Jesus replies, if the people did stop singing peace, even the stones would sing for it.
Jesus weeps for the people, the city, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”
And after his resurrection, Jesus appears to the huddled fearful disciples, locked away behind closed doors, and says to them, “Peace be with you.”
Everything God does in Jesus, and everything Jesus did, was to bring Peace.
If we wish to celebrate Christmas, we must use every tool God has given us, every lesson Luke and Jesus teach us, to have that peace ourselves, and to insure that peace for others. Let’s worship God. Let’s honor God’s holy commands. Let’s seek reconciliation and justice all our days. Let’s do these things to bring God’s peace into the world.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Share the peace of Christ with one another…
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown