Filed under: Sermons
When I was younger, magic eye pictures were really popular. I had a big poster in my room, with dolphins, fish and a whale all around the outside of what looked like pink and purple patterns and squiggles. If you were to stare at the picture just right, sort of unfocus your eyes, a 3D image would appear.
Different images have always fascinated me, from my little kid magazines with the “Guess the Object” super zoomed in photos on the back, to middle school years pouring over Where’s Waldo, finding one little figure in the midst of a crowded scene, to my college dorm room plastered with Escher’s impossible designs of stairs going up and down, looping infinitely.
These eye puzzles are all about perspective and focus, being able to see something specific and unexpected.
Our Gospel readings from Luke are the oral equivalents of portraits that take your mind from the broad landscape into minute specificity.
For our psalmody, we heard and sang Zechariah’s Song. Zechariah is a priest and the husband of Elizabeth. While Zechariah is serving in the temple, an angel appears. Through the angel, God tells him that he and Elizabeth will have a son. They will name him John, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. John will bring people back to God. After the angelic visitation, Zechariah cannot speak. While he remains mute, Elizabeth and Zechariah conceive a child. This joy came years after their hopes of having a child had passed. When the child is born, at his naming, Zechariah is freed for speech and out of his mouth, which has been silent for almost a year, pours this song of praise.
Zechariah begins with broad strokes, “blessed be the Lord God of Israel”- painting God’s faithfulness to the ancestors and through the generations.
His song moves down to the specific eight day old infant in his arms, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.”
Finally, he closes with a focus on the gifts of God for himself and for all, “the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Zechariah moves from the big, ancient picture of God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, and David. He sets as the backdrop the faithfulness God has shown in the past, freeing from slavery in Egypt, rescuing from captivity in Babylon, and paints the foreground as this present moment with this child. He draws listeners forward to imagine the new things God will do through those gathered in that room. Zechariah’s scope narrows from the historical view to the present, all the while seeing God at work.
God’s ancient work is made real in the present. What has been hoped for will come into being among them, now!
We heard Luke 3 as our Gospel reading. It picks up John’s story as he preaches in the wilderness around the Jordan.
This reading opens in a particular way, “when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,” This litany of rulers and places locates the scene in a specific time and place.
“The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Here we hear the point at which the scene narrows. God is acting in a specific person, at a specific place, at a specific time.
Luke takes our cosmic picture of God, beyond all time and space, powerful, but maybe distant, and zooms down into a point in time to say, there! At this time! At this place! God is entering our plane and doing something really big.
Where in chapter 1, Luke writes Zechariah’s song by layering John’s birth onto the faithfulness of God throughout the ages, and the hope of the people who look into the future, trusting God to act on their behalf, in chapter 3, Luke highlights God’s entrance through John’s ministry with a pop of contrasting color.
All the people of power are named in one long sentence. The powers of the empire, the powers of the local community, the powers of religion- they are filled in with the same tone. But this is not a monochrome painting. There is a splash of color that might just transform everything around it. Set apart from all the powers of the world, the power of God is appearing.
How do you image your life, our world, and the God who is entering?
What is the backdrop against which your life is painted?
If you’ve painted recently, you know that sometimes the background shows through the foreground. Think of a little kid trying to paint a pink flower over a green grass background. Kids aren’t the most patient, so some of the green might still be wet, and as she tries to swirl a pink petal, it becomes a brown blob as the colors mix.
Or you might remember the last time you tried to paint a room, and if you’re like me, trying to save some money, you might think you can cover a stained white sealing with another coat of cheap white paint and skip the primer. You’d find that, once your hard work dried, the stains would show through.
As much as we might want to live our lives focused on the life and hope God has given us, sometimes the background is painted by the world. The strokes of that scene are made in fear and hate, images express words like ISIS, Death, Terrorism, Economic, Borders, Guns, lockdown, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, divorce…
The world paints a compelling background with the power to seep through our designs of hope. Sometimes, we can’t muster up enough faith ourselves. That’s ok. We don’t paint alone. We look to the master painter, who will transform not only our lives, our families, but will transform all creation, so much so that even the background of darkness will be changed. We haven’t made it to that transformation yet, but we are called to follow in Zechariah’s lead, celebrating the signs of God’s faithfulness that are real in our lives. Where is God breaking in to your life today?
These Advent texts want to mold our image of God. Luke takes our big, cosmic ideas about God and refocuses us to see God at work in real time, real places, through real people. After generations of hoping, God has come: to this little baby John and in the baby who will be born in a stable. God continues to enter our world, sometimes in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. Look for the beauty of God’s faithfulness to you. Let God transform your sight and give you the eyes to see the beginning of the reworking of the grand portrait of creation as we move towards the fulfillment of all hope.
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