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Today’s texts both tell of angelic messengers who come with a word to be spoken and heard. Who wouldn’t want to have a child? And yet these two men have grown accustomed to what they have and don’t have. They know what to expect from life. One is old. One is single. They live in a land occupied by the Romans, a foreign power that seeks to change their way of life and worldview. A superpower that deems everything Roman to be better. A foreign empire with the greatest army the world had ever known. It’s also a time when we believe that most land was owned by a small number of absentee landowners who were quick to raise rents but slow to help their people. There is no hope for change. The prophet Isaiah had spoke repeatedly of God’s future coming which would be like the desert blooming in flowers, like the blind seeing, like the lame jumping like a deer. But it seems to have just been poetic beauty, wishful thinking.
Zechariah receives the angel’s proclamation of a child at his advanced age with skepticism. He basically demands proof before he’ll believe this new thing. For this arrogance, he is silenced until his son, John, is born.
Our first text from the gospel of Luke is Zechariah’s prophecy, his poetic response to the way in which God is interrupting the narrative of his life. In the first half of his prophecy, Zechariah looks back to their roots when God offered militaristic protection against enemies of the House of David. Luke begins his gospel story with this song (and Mary’s too) which talk of a clean slate, God doing a new thing. There is a silencing of the old ways of doing and thinking.
Clinging to the past must make way, for God is doing something new. God’s unfailing love and mercy break down all barriers, transform all expectations, create something new – way, way far outside of the box. Joseph learns that his soon-to-be-wife is pregnant. He’s a good man, who to the best of his ability lives according to the ways of God. He’ll divorce Mary quietly so as not to bring public shame upon her, and possible death by stoning. Undoubtedly, Joseph’s been wondering what’s going on. How could this happen to me? Where is God in this mess? The angel responds saying that the unplanned pregnancy is God’s planned hope to bloom in the barrenness of the world. This baby to come is God with us. God among, in and alongside us. It’s the light of God dawning upon those lost in the darkness of the seemingly never-ending night.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation