FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Dec. 19, 2021
Prayer of the Day
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to voices preparing your way. Grant us the wisdom to see your purpose and the openness to hear your will, that we too may prepare the way of your Anointed one who comes to establish your kingdom of peace and justice; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Psalmody: Isaiah 40:1-11, 29-31
Title: A Song of Hope
Sing out, Zechariah! Sing out with the joy of a new father holding his child in his hands. Sing out with the joy of a believer who sees the fulfillment of God’s promises smiling back at you. Sing out with the doubt-strengthened faith of one who questioned how this could be. Sing out with the new found hope anchored in the loving and sustaining presence of God – past, present, and future. Sing out with the new voice of one who has been silenced. Sing a new song, old man, for truly God is doing a new thing for you, in you, and in spite of you. Sing out, Zechariah, Sing out.
And what a song you do sing! Recorded in scripture, re-sung by Christians across the ages. Benedictus Dominius Deus – Blessed be the Lord, our God. I’m guessing this was a hymn of praise nine months in the making. As you sat silently, watching the promises spoken by Gabriel that day in the temple come to fruition in Elizabeth. You must have wanted to burst into song each day of her pregnancy. But you were silent. Your time for singing would come. Your voice would come back with the baby’s birth. Nine months to think on not the baby’s first words but on your own. And what words they were, worthy of a song. And sing you did.
And you proclaimed a song not only nine months in the making, but nineteen centuries in the making. Your melody tuned to God’s abiding presence that sweetly serenaded Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Ruth and David, Isaiah and Esther, and now you and Elizabeth, and cousin Mary. Singing of God: calling out, walking with, forgiving and encouraging, freeing from slavery, accompanying into exile, restoring and renewing; always and in all things there was love, there was grace and mercy, there was promises made and promises kept. Not in our time, but in God’s time.
And in the legacy and lineage of all that history, and now before your eyes, Zechariah, a new and even more glorious day is dawning. This son of yours will be the last of the prophets promising a savior. And he will prepare the way for the savior who is coming. Yes, Zechariah, so much to sing of. A new light is coming, descending from the God of love, the God who does not hesitate to dwell with the people, and you are playing a role in this great romance.
Sing out, members of St. Johannes Kirche, who 166 years ago, this day, for whatever reason their motivation, started a new fellowship of faith, a new worshipping community. Sure, Pastor Held had just had a falling out with the leaders of St. Mark’s – a congregation that he had only just started. Were they being unreasonable? Was he being stubborn? Was it a little bit of both? Probably. Whatever the reason, Held and those who gathered with him joined together and sang songs of praise to the God who had brought them safely thus far – cross the ocean from their home land. Now God was with them as new homes on new shores were being established, new businesses and careers started. Like Zechariah, they looked back and saw God’s faithfulness. And so, they sang. They witnessed their present endeavors and sang of God’s hand at work. And they looked to the future with hope and they sang.
And sing they did. The first hymn of that first service was a beloved hymn. The lyric of the first stanza, translated of course, are:
Entrust your way and what grieves your heart
to the most faithful care of him who governs heaven!
He who gives to the clouds, air, and winds their way, course and path
will also find a way where your feet can go.
The hymn was sung again three years later (in 1858) when they moved into this sanctuary. It was the first song they sang in their new home.
However, two years after starting the congregation, their songs of faith were put to the test. In the midst of the Panic of 1857 – the first financial crisis to spread rapidly because of that 13 year old invention of Samuel Morse, the telegraph (yes, early social media played a role) – in the midst of failing banks and shuttering companies, and the lost savings and unemployment that goes with them, the young fledgling congregation gathered to vote. Do we go on? Can we go on? Again, the silence of doubt and hesitation were broken with a song of faith. They voted to continue and just one year later, they were able to buy a home and move into this wonderful sanctuary. And now, 200 years since a song of faith built it, 163 years after a song of faith secured it, God is inspiring us to sing a new song in this sacred space – some traditional, some in the key of jazz, some are sung with our own voices, some lip synced to Patti LaBelle and Whitney, but in all our songs we sing with Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary, Pastor Held and his faithfully stubborn flock, and all those who have followed. We sing with Paul and his listeners, with believers of every time and every place the gospel is preached.
The song of faith is not always an easy song to sing. Maybe it never is. Whether it is the world’s dissonance that seeks to drown it out or the dissonance of doubt that we hear in our own head. There is the challenge of singing harmoniously in a community that grows more and more diverse. And when you think about it, the song of faith does not solve or dissolve the challenges being faced. But it brings the comfort promised by Isaiah to singer and listener alike. And I certainly don’t have to list the challenges of present day as we learn to sing together even when we are not able to gather together. As our nation struggles to unite in a song that all can find joy in, that all can sing. As our world warns us that the demanding shouts of consumption cannot be sustained, those voices must be quieted and a new song needs to be sung.
But the song of faith is not a song that merely celebrates the past and seeks to bring comfort in the present. It is a song that carries us into the future. Because the song of faith is most certainly based in the hope that is ours in God through Jesus Christ and kept tuned by the work of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah this week, Mary last week, both looked to the God who had brought their people from called family to blessed nation, from slavery to freedom, from exiled to renewed. And both of these singers used the fulfilled promises of the past to lead them into the future. The Mighty God who saved a nation would be the one to save the world. The Merciful One who led the slaves into freedom, who brought the exiles home, would be the One to grace us with liberating forgiveness and save us from our sins and lead us into the freedom of that is ours in Christ. The Loving Creator who continues to recreate and resurrect would be the One to dawn a new day, conquering death and shining an everlasting light on all of us who were sitting in the dark shadows of death. Yes, they sang with hope at the new life they were beholding – whether in hand or in womb.
And we, St. John’s of today, continue this song of hope. We are witnesses to the fulfillment of the lyrics of Zechariah and Mary. We are inheritors of the witness of those first followers who were blessed to see the hope lived out in Jesus the Christ. We are the living legacy of those faithful ones who have carried the song in the past.
Surely, God in Christ and the Holy Spirit has given us reason to sing and continues to show us that nothing can silence that song that faith teaches us to sing. So, Sing out! Sing out with the joy of one looking into the face of new life. For new life is ours in Christ Jesus, the savior of the nations, who came, who is present, who is coming.
The Rev. Mark Erson