Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Advent: Zechariah and Elizabeth 1

This series is my own preparation for Advent, and it will look at the First Christmas and how various characters encountered the First Christmas. “What was Christmas like for….?” is the question we are asking. We will look at Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary (with Elizabeth again), Joseph, and Simeon/Anna. Each will have five separate posts around this theme: their encounter with the revelation that Christmas was about to occur. These are not sermons, but advent preparation reflections, and I hope to engage any and all who will think along with me around this theme for Advent Season. Again, what was the first Christmas like? (And, of course, what are its implications for today?)
Christmas meant Answered Yearning: Luke 1:5-17
Zechariah was a priest – and his son, John the Baptist, evidently repudiated the Temple as a place for meeting God and finding purification. Instead, John found purity in the Jordan River and in the confession that went along with baptism. I’ve often pondered whether John’s act was a response to his father’s revelation in the Temple, but it is more guesswork than anything else. At any rate, Elijah had words for the priests, and John was Elijianic.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were both “upright in the sight of God” or “righteous before God.” That is, they were tsadiqim – those whose lives were conformed to the Torah. I sketch some of this in Jesus Creed (chp on Joseph), but there is force in the Jewish world in being described as “righteous” or a tsadiq. Profoundly pious, rigorously committed to the Torah, and enthusiastically obedient are the sorts of ideas connected to Z and E’s reputation.
In spite of their obedience, they are barren. This description in Luke 1:7 immediately throws us into the world of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18:11), Elkanah and Hanna (1 Sam 1), and Manoah and his wife (Judg 13:2). Barrenness is a sign of God not blessing, and they were humbled by their condition. That they were aged complicated their condition.
Zechariah, in his bi-annual opportunity to perform the priestly function in the Temple and in his perhaps only time ever to get to do the incense offering, is met by Gabriel. Gabriel is famous for letting Israel in on the future plans of God (Dan 8:17; 9:20-21; 10:15). That future now includes two things that must thrill the hearts of Z and E: first, they will have a baby boy and this boy, to be named John, will be the instrument of God for a revival in Israel (Luke 1:11-17). In fact, he will be the Elijah figure promised in Malachi 3—4.
Zechariah’s experience occurs when all Israel is praying – this would be about 3pm at the time of the evening sacrifice. It is also the time when Israel gathered at the Temple to say its prayers (perhaps the ha-Tepillah, today called the Amidah, or something like it, perhaps also the Shema).While the people prays for God to come for redemption, which is inherent to these prayers, God is actually doing something about it – in a surprising way by bringing into the world a prophet destined for revival.
The boy’s name is to be Yohanan – “Yahweh has given grace.” But this boy will also be one connected with joy and delight and rejoicing and greatness and the Spirit of God (1:13-17).
Yearning is a theme of the first Christmas characters – they are all longing for the day when God would enter history and reverse the tides of injustice, violence, impiety, disobedience, and poverty. In the hearts of Z and E is a yearning for God’s promised redemption.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 21, 2005 at 10:06 am

A word of sympathy for pastors and church leaders at work now for Advent 1: the interloping of Thanksgiving this week surely detracts from the first week of Advent, and I’m not sure how you do so well at doing both.
So, this series of posts is my attempt to keep both in mind. For our part, we are preparing for a weekend with our two kids and spouses at Luke’s and Annika’s place, and it will be hard to keep Advent in mind for Sunday morning.

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posted November 21, 2005 at 3:04 pm

hey you got a nice blog. thanks and God bless

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Mark Perry

posted November 21, 2005 at 4:08 pm

Just a thought: might a focus on the Feast of St. Andrew provide a bridge thematically between Thanksgiving and Advent? I’m not sure how, but for some pastors it might spur the creative juices.

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posted November 21, 2005 at 6:52 pm

as we are in transition right now between ministry and school we are disconnected in this holy season. i am so grateful to have this series to wait with. i am tying my thankfulness together with the yearning – infertile for 9 years i know what yearning and waiting is. today i celebrate that place of looking back with a grateful heart, but still lingering in the waiting seasons.

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posted November 21, 2005 at 9:13 pm

Sacred Journey » Blog Archive » The Great Anticipation – Blog of Mark Traphagen

[…] Just a quick link to Scot McKnight’s beginning of a series of Advent meditations. Let the Great Anticipation begin! Published in: Christian Community | on November 21st, 2005 | […]

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posted November 22, 2005 at 1:36 am

Thank you for your thoughts.
I am teaching the same topic. I keep pondering why Luke starts with Zachariah? Is he the personification of Israel? “Let him who has ears hear.” Luke begins with a man whom has been faithful, but cannot comprehend…disciplined for disbelief then restored.

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Regina Clare Jane

posted November 22, 2005 at 7:14 pm

I linked onto your log via John Frye and I am happy I did. Thank you for the wonderful and insightful reflections on the first Advent. I am very new to the Emergent way of thinking but I am finding myself so drawn to it. Blessings on you and I look forward to the rest of your series.

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posted December 7, 2005 at 10:24 am

Thank you. God is lifting my heart as you write about barrenness and waiting. I will keep reading and listening. His blessings to you.

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