Dr Di Rayson captures our collective weariness and longing as we begin our Advent journey in 2020.
On the twenty-second day of Advent, 2020, Peter Richardson draws out lessons in preparation and faithfulness
Preparations for the coming King
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Normally when oppression ends there is dancing in the streets: the occupying army is defeated, the walls come down, the dictator flees, oppressive laws are repealed. Who can forget the scenes in one Eastern Bloc country some time ago when years of brutal repression ended? People were burying those killed in the fighting and were singing hymns publicly for the first time in 40 years!
We could almost take the words of Zechariah’s song in today’s passage and put them in the mouths of many in that scene: “Praise be to the Lord because he has come to his people and redeemed them …from the hand of those who hate us … to enable us to serve him without fear … all our lives”.
As Zechariah gazes at the son which the Lord has given to Elizabeth and himself, he is especially conscious of the role this miracle child will have in preparing the way for the Redeemer. “And you my child will be called a prophet of the Most High for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”
We are used to the idea of preparing the way for a coming dignitary. Sometimes it entails moving unpresentable people out of the way or bulldozing the unsightly and painting the rundown or cleaning up the rubbish and planting flowers. Zechariah’s son’s role will be somewhat different. “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” He is preparing a people who will welcome the King, and who will be open to be part of his ministry of restoration and setting people free.
Zechariah and Mary’s joyous songs are, as one would expect for first century faithful Israelites, couched in Old Testament language. They point to a combination of political, social and spiritual changes because of the coming of the King. It reminds us that all these results can be present when the King is faithfully followed.
In fact, the people prepared by the ministry of Zechariah’s son are on that journey. They come to confess their sin and receive the sign of forgiveness. The crowd leave, encouraged to be generous; the tax collectors, to be honest (Was Zacchaeus one of them?); the soldiers, not to oppress.
We think of advent as a time of preparing for the coming of the King Jesus. Can we identify with these people whom John the Baptist prepared for the coming of the Christ? These people came for forgiveness and left with a renewed encouragement to embody the King’s mission in their lives. As they embody this mission, they impact those around them. May we embody this mission and our hearts be prepared.
Peter Richardson is a retired church minister who began his working life as a farmer. He is married to Jenny, a retired GP Counsellor, and has worked in church settings in Australia as well as in theological teaching roles both in the Indian Sub-continent and Australia. He is grateful for the opportunity they have had to see God at work in varied cultures. Peter and Jenny have five married children and 12 grandchildren to keep life interesting.