Thursday, June 23, 2011
A Preview... The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
The birth of John, like the birth of Isaac before him and Jesus after Him, is a story filled with mystery and wonder. It bends the imagination. But the key here is not the creation of a good story but the revelation that God’s will was at work in these births. Not by the fleshly desire of husband for wife or wife for husband, but word and work of God through the Spirit.
We long for stories of romance and heroic victory, overcoming all odds and winning the trophy. But instead we find here the stories of old men too old to father a child and old women long past time to conceive or carry in their womb the promise of life. We find instead a virgin whose purity simply says that it cannot be by ordinary means that this child has entered her womb.
We find stories of disbelief and fear, of disappointment and failure, and in the midst of them all, God is at work. At first it might seem to us that these stories are too far removed from us to have any real connection to us. Where are the fathers as good as dead and the mothers whose empty wombs were filled with surprise? Where are the virgins who find the scandalous surprise of life planted within them by the Holy Spirit.
But these stories have everything to do with us. First of all, they form the common thread that weaves the hope and promise of redemption to a world captive to sin and its death. As part of that sinful and fallen creation, they speak not of some hope in time but the timeless hope that enfolds us and redeems us from our lost condition.
Second, they speak of the surprise of grace which is seldom where you expect to find it. They teach us to peer into the baptismal water and see the churning water of life into which we cast the dead only to have them rise up reborn to everlasting life. They teach us to listen to the voice that says “I forgive you” and to hear the personal word that lifts from our shoulders the heavy burden of our sin and our guilt and sets us free for the easy yoke of Christ’s service. They teach us to look at the bread and taste in it the awesome mystery of Christ’s body, the bread of life of which we eat and live forever or the cup of wine that is flows both from the cross and from the heavenly table at one and the same time, the cup of salvation for you and for me.
Third they speak of our own lives so often filled with sadness, hurt, pain, disappointment, fear, and death. Into this deadness comes the very life of God in Christ – the life that refuses to let tears flow, that refuse to let hurt steal our joy, that refuse to allow pain to preoccupy our hearts, that refuse to let disappointment take away our confidence in tomorrow, that refuse to let fear hold us captive anymore, and that insist death must not and must never be allowed to have the final word in our lives.
So we come today to remember the joy of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the surprise of a son who would give voice to a priest and be embody the ancient promise of the prophets and prepare the way of the Son of God, speak redemption to lives held captive in sin and death, and call to repentance a people who had long ago given up hope in God.
Their joy is ours, the voice of their son calls to us, the promise of the Savior gives us the surprise of hope even in the midst of our lives too full of disappointment and pain. Sin and death are done, done in by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and put down where and when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed. This is better than some romantic or heroic story of human triumph... this is the Word that forgives, redeems, restores, and reclaims us, those who were meant for disappointment have been given hope. Amen.