Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85: 7-13
Acts 13: 14b-26
Luke 1: 57-80
It doesn’t take much: a young girl, barely a teenager, lowering her bucket into the village well, listening for the splash when it hits the water; an old man, hands shaking with age, alone in the sanctuary of the Lord, spooning incense onto the red hot charcoal of the altar brazier. It doesn’t take much, and suddenly there is a moment, a movement, a presence, a strange voice, a greeting: ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you’; a command and a promise: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’
It doesn’t take much, a young girl, barely a teenager, going about her daily chores; an old man, whose hands tremble with age, performing a duty he had done, perhaps countless times before, yet something is profoundly different.
It doesn’t take much, and in an instant there is a moment, a movement, a presence, a strange voice, a greeting, a command, a promise, and everything is different.
It doesn’t take much, and suddenly we are aware of a Presence; of the Divine; of God.
It doesn’t take much, and we know that God is in our midst.
Scripture, and the scripture of your life, is full of tiny, almost imperceptible moments when God breaks through, and the reality of God’s presence in your life is tangible. You can feel it. You can sense it. You can almost hear the angel’s wings. And with that moment, that movement, that presence, that strange voice, that greeting, that command, that promise, everything changes.
We don’t know what Mary was thinking, what Zachariah was pondering that day so long ago. Perhaps they were lost in thought, looking ahead or looking back. We don’t know if they were deep in prayer, or merely thinking about breakfast or supper. We do know that they were both surprised, even frightened. ‘Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with the Lord.’ ‘Do not be afraid, Zachariah, for your prayer has been heard.’
It’s interesting isn’t it? Two quite ordinary people, going about the ordinary routines of their daily lives, and God breaks in, and breaks through, and takes hold, and they are changed, the world is changed.
It’s interesting isn’t it? We often think, or at least I often think, that God only acts in grand, majestic ways, heralded by trumpets and earthquakes, choirs of angels and flashes of lightening, claps of thunder and mighty miracles. And God does. God does act in all those ways. But first God acts as a young girl draws water, and as an old man puts on incense, as shepherds huddle at night around a fire, as a tax collector sits at his booth, and as two brothers mend their fishing nets.
It’s interesting isn’t it? We often think that God only acts in grand, majestic ways, but the reality is that God first acts amidst the ordinary, routine events of our lives, and unless we are watching, we miss God. Unless we are watching, we miss those encounters with angels; unless we are watching, we miss the ways in which God is changing our lives; unless we are watching, we miss the ways in which God is changing the world.
That’s what these two stories remind me of this morning: that God acts in the routine, the mundane, the ordinary events of our lives, and unless we pay attention, not just to the grand and the mighty, but also to the ordinary and routine, we may never sing with Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord; we may never sing with Zachariah: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Unless we pay attention to the ordinary and routine of our lives, we may never hear the song of the angels, or the call of Jesus to come and follow.
What happens next is truly wondrous and amazing, as Mary becomes the Virgin Mother of God, and as Zachariah and Elizabeth, in their old age, become the parents of John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Lord. But it is what happens first, that has captured my attention this morning. And what happens first is quite ordinary: a young girl walks to the village well with her bucket, and an old man goes about a task he has done, perhaps countless times before, and both of them heard the wings of angels, and their lives were changed, and the world was changed.
We often discount the ordinary, the routine, the mundane, in our lives, living instead for the grand and the mighty, forgetting that God is as likely to send angels when we are doing the dishes, working at some task, having coffee with a friend, as when we are engaged in some grand and mighty scheme. The challenge for us is to pay attention.
Whatever it was that Mary was thinking about that day as she walked to the village well, we will never know. What we do know is that she was paying attention. And the angel of the Lord spoke to her. What about you?
Whatever it was that Zachariah was pondering that day as his aged hands trembled, while they laid on the incense in the sanctuary of the Lord, we will never know. What we do know is that he was paying attention. And the angel of the Lord spoke to him. What about you?
Today is a day of small beginnings that have the power to change, not just our lives, but the history of the world. Are you paying attention?
Are you paying attention while you do the dishes? Work at some task? Have coffee with a friend? Are you paying attention during those ordinary, routine, mundane moments in your life, because you might just hear the wings of angels, as God breaks in, and breaks through into your life and says: Greetings favoured one, do not be afraid, the Lord has heard your prayer.
Orthodox tradition tells us that at the Annunciation, Mary first encountered the angel Gabriel at the well in Nazareth. See Luke 1: 26 – 38
Zachariah’s encounter with Gabriel took place while he was fulfilling his duties as a priest in the Temple. See Luke 1: 5 – 23
Luke 1: 28
Luke 1: 13 – 17
Luke 1: 30
Luke 1: 13
Luke 2: 8ff
Luke 5: 27ff
Matthew 4: 21ff
Luke 1: 46b ff
Luke 1: 68ff
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