Rev. George Miller
Dec 23, 2012
A teenage boy had developed a deep fascination for cars. It was something he inherited from his father.
Ever since he was just a little boy he would listen in fascination as his father drove down the road saying things like “That’s a ’63 Camaro” or “That’s a ’79 Corvette.”
So naturally, when he turned 16 he asked his father to take him to go get his license.
After doing so, he asked his Dad if he could use of the car, assuming that since they had spent years bonding over all things cars, his father would give an enthusiastic “Yes!”
So the teenage boy was extremely surprised when his father outright said “No.”
“However,” said the father, “I’ll make a deal with you. Bring your grades up from a C to a B, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we'll talk about the car.”
The boy thought for a moment, decided he'd settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.
After six weeks his father said, “Son, you've brought your grades up and I've seen how you’ve been studying the Bible. But I'm disappointed you haven't cut your hair cut.”
The boy, thinking he was slick, said, “You know Dad, I've been thinking about that, and I've noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, as did Moses, as did John the Baptist... and some even suggest that Jesus had long hair.”
To which his father wisely replied, “Ah, yes Son. But did you also notice they all walked everywhere they went?”
…I share this joke because it refers to John the Baptist, whose birth we just heard about. I also share it because it echoes a theory I’ve had for the past few years.
My theory is that we all have a desire to be a sponge for our elder’s information, traditions and experiences and that we all have a need to pass on information, tradition and experiences to others.
I think this stems from our attempt to stave off our mortality as well as too keep those we care about as close as possible.
I’m going to be a bit sexist for a moment, but I’ve seen this in how some women will pass on recipes, jewelry and the ability to do things like knit and to sew.
I’ve also seen this in men who will pass on their power tools and knowledge of how to change a tire, bait a hook or clean a fish.
There is something that happens in both men and women when a younger person shows interest in something we are doing.
Maybe they want to learn how to shine shoes or play Solitaire, or how to whistle or paint a fence.
I believe that all of us have an ingrain need to be both a mentor and a mentee, and we seek that out in various relationships.
Because of this, I think it is especially sad or difficult for those of us who do not have children or grandchildren that we can pass that information on too.
That’s why I am thankful for nieces and nephews as well as programs like our Vacation Bible School or the local chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
As most of you know, I volunteer for Big Brothers and in so many ways my Little Brother is a perfect match for me.
Last week we joined people from our church to see the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.
However, the wait was too long and he was getting fidgety, so I hoisted him onto my shoulders and we walked to the back of the pavilion to view the show.
Being all of age 9, he wasn’t that much intrigued. He did, however, begin to muss up my hair. Then he started playing with my beard, asking why some of my hair was white and some was brown.
A little while later, I felt a heaviness on top of my head. Turns out he had fallen asleep.
I don’t think it was because of boredom, but because he was comfortable and felt safe.
A special bond occurred that moment.
Later, I watched as he saw his first live shark, he tried to use chopsticks, as he smiled from ear to ear when we went sailing down a log flume.
It was while viewing a dancing water fountain that moved and popped to music that he turned to me and stated that he’d like to design one when he grew up.
Not only was it a joy to introduce him to all those things, but he gave me a gift.
Introducing him to Disney World made me realize that one reason I love Disney so much is because it was something my father shared with me, and that it was at Disney World that I got to experience the best my father could be.
Last Saturday I felt that sense of paternal pride creep in, and with those feelings, a closeness for my own father who had died many, many years ago.
I share all of this because I think today’s reading is extremely paternal.
For three weeks we have been preparing for the birth of Jesus. For three weeks most of the stories and sermons have been from a feminine point of view.
But now we have a moment for the guys.
Zechariah is a priest serving in the holy Temple. Both he and his wife are righteous folks, living the best they know how.
For years they had been carrying great sadness and shame because they did not have any children.
But an angel had visited Zechariah and told him the hopeful news that he would soon be a father and his son would be called John.
Can you imagine the mixture of emotions Zechariah must have felt when his wife became pregnant?
The hope, the joy. The expectations of what he and his son would do. The lessons he’d share; the traditions he’d be able to pass on.
I imagine there was also fear. “What if I’m too old?” “What if I can’t physically keep up?” “What if I don’t live long enough to see his Bar Mitzvah?”
Time passes and eventually Elizabeth’s unusual pregnancy comes to its natural conclusion. A child has been born.
A son, promised by the angel Gabriel.
Luke continues to show us just how inclusive and boundary breaking the Jesus experience is.
Neighbors and relatives become part of the narrative fiber.
Ancient traditions of circumcision and naming give way to amazing newness and free speech.
Both mother and father play equal parts in what their son is to be called.
Then we witness this intimate scene of a new father talking about his son.
Although Luke does not describe the scene, I can’t help but to imagine this being a tender moment between father and son in which Zechariah, the proud father, is lovingly, protectively, holding his baby boy.
In his speech, the past, present and future come together. He refers to God as blessed, merciful, and rescuer.
He then shifts his focus onto his baby boy. “And you, my son, will be called the Prophet of the Most High.”
“You will go before the Lord to prepare the way; to share wisdom; to remind people about the tender mercy of God.”
“You will help to make sure God’s light will shine upon those in darkness. You will help guide their feet in the way of peace.”
Imagine Zechariah, a holy and righteous priest, being able to celebrate what his own son will accomplish for the Lord.
He may not be able to pass on how to change a tire or bait a hook or swing a golf club, but this…this he can do.
I also imagine that Zechariah, at this moment, feels a great amount of love.
Love for God. Love for his wife. Love for his child.
Love is not always the easiest concept to describe, because it is something you feel, something you do.
But I can say this: love is an act of creation in which that which we feel spills out of us like light from a candle, like sound from a bell, transcending space and time, darkness and silence.
Love makes one feel totally present in the here and now, while making peace with the past, while at the same time being hopefully, joyfully expectant of the future.
Love makes you want to be a better person because at that moment you are a better person.
The love that Zechariah feels for his son is no doubt a love that becomes rooted in tenderness and closeness.
Feelings which will introduce John to the concepts of justice, mercy and grace.
Since Zechariah has also been foretold by the angel of what to expect with his son, he also knows that his paternal love will have to involve the ability to let go and to encourage risks.
I can’t help but to see and to hear and to feel all of these things in the words of Zechariah.
That here is his son, flesh of his flesh, and in him exists the reality of not only Zechariah’s work living on, but the work of God, preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our lives.
In conclusion, we are nearing closer to the birth of our Savior. Every week, every story in Luke is showing us just how much Jesus will change history and all of our lives.
We have welcomed in hope, we have welcomed in joy, we have welcomed in peace.
Now today we welcome in love.
Love that goes beyond all pretense and brokenness and nurtures us so we can grow in the Spirit.
Love that blossoms like a flower, shines like a light in the darkness, and sustains us during times in the wilderness.
And now, let’s end with just a very quick joke.
Four men are in the hospital awaiting the birth of their children. A nurse goes up to the first guy and says, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.”
“That’s odd,” answers the man. “I work for the Minnesota Twins!”
A nurse says to the second guy, “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets!”
“That’s weird,” answers the second man. “I work for the 3M company!”
A nurse tells the next man “Congratulations! You’re the father of quadruplets!”
“That’s strange,” he answers. “I work for the Four Seasons hotel!”
The last man is groaning and wringing his hands. “What’s wrong?” the others ask.
“I work for 7 Up!”
…This holiday week, may we all experience our own kind of abundance.
May we welcome the gifts of hope, joy and peace.
May we also welcome and share the gift of love.
Love that reminds us of how we are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our Lord.
Love that gives us rest when we are tired. Love that makes us feel safe even when things appear unsure.
Amen and amen.