Sermon: Messengers

December 5, 2021

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Luke 3:1-6

by Eric Anderson

There’s a funny thing about a story. Somebody has to tell it.

The noio who nest on the cliffsides above the breaking waves like their big flocks. They hang out together, they fly together, and they fish together. Somewhat unusually, it was a small group of three young noio who first spotted the darkening skies to the east.

“What’s that?” asked one, who hadn’t seen a major storm before.

“That’s high wind and strong rain,” said the second.

“That’s for sure,” said the third.

The three of them continued to circle about over a small school of fish they were following.

“Is it coming this way?” asked the first.

“I think it might be,” said the second.

“Perhaps it is, perhaps it is,” said the third.

They circled. They dove. They ate fish.

“I think it’s definitely closer,” said the first.

“You might be right,” said the second.

“It’s either getting closer or getting bigger,” said the third.

“Or both,” they all said together.

They circled. They dove. They ate.

“Do you suppose… the rest of the flock should know?” asked the first.

“It might be a good idea,” agreed the second.

“It definitely would,” said the third.

Circle. Dive. Eat.

“Who should do that?” asked the first.

“Good question,” said the second.

“It could be anyone,” offered the third.

Circle. Dive. Eat.

“It’s a funny thing about a story,” said the first.

“A funny thing indeed,” agreed the second.

“Somebody has to tell it,” announced the third.

And they circled. And they dove. And they ate.

It’s a funny thing about a story. Somebody has to tell it.

At first glance, Zechariah seemed like a natural fit for a prophet, for a messenger of God. Like Ezekiel some centuries before him, he was a priest. He shared a name with another prophet, the author of the book of Zechariah, who may also have been part of a priestly family during the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple at the end of the exile. The name “Zechariah” means “God remembered,” which is a pretty good name for someone remembering to speak the word of God.

Zechariah, however, was a prophet who had asked, “How will I be sure of this?” when an angel told him that his wife Elizabeth would conceive a child in their old age. That was a different question than the one Mary asked, which was, “How can these things be?” The angel Gabriel answered Mary’s question, but reacted rather differently to Zechariah’s. He said, “But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

It’s a funny thing about a story. Somebody has to tell it. Zechariah had been asked to tell a story, and basically refused to believe it. As a result, he could not tell it. He could not speak at all. Not for nine months.

A week after the birth of their son, Elizabeth and Zechariah welcomed the neighbors for their child’s circumcision. It’s a bit of a parallel to the Chinese custom of celebrating a child’s first haircut at one month. Coincidentally, it turned into something similar to the Japanese tradition of oshichiya, when a new father writes the newborn’s name in calligraphy and posts the paper on the wall. Elizabeth had announced that their son’s name was John, but those who had gathered didn’t think that was proper. It wasn’t a family name. Zechariah wrote the words, “His name is John,” and that was when he regained the power of speech and sang the song of verses 68 through 79.

He wasn’t on time for the party, but he got there, and he became the messenger he’d been asked to be.

Today’s readings are all about messengers. “Malachi” in Hebrew means, “my messenger.” Zechariah, “God remembered.” John (Yohanan in Hebrew), “graced by God.” We don’t really know a lot about these people. We know rather more about their messages: Malachi’s announcement of great change, of refining, of cleansing. Zechariah’s song of thanksgiving that God remembered the promises of old. John’s proclamation that all flesh would see the salvation of God.

One of the distinct features of Christianity is that all Christians share to some degree in the role of messenger. It’s a funny thing about a story. Somebody has to tell it, and everybody is somebody. Each Christian has a unique perspective on the reality of God and God’s Creation; each Christian has a particular message to share. Some of us are asked to speak our message it as our primary activity in the world; others are called to embody it as they do the work of living.

So what is your message? What story needs you to tell it?

I could take these next few minutes to hector you about that, and say that you need to figure it out, but something else might be more helpful – I hope it is – and that’s to offer you an example. Here’s the message I share. Here’s the story I strive to tell.

God created the universe out of love as well as out of power. But the universe as it is is not the universe that God intends. The world can be better than it is, and God wants our situation to be better than it is. We can, of our own wisdom and insight and labor, make the world better. I think that the witness of history is that human beings are so prone to error – and so prone to sin – that it requires God’s intervention to fully achieve God’s intentions.

I believe that God has made a particularly great intervention in an obscure Jewish carpenter born to a poor family in an undistinguished corner of the world two thousand years ago. That laborer-turned-teacher embodied the love of God that had created the universe, proclaimed the wisdom of God that had guided generations of a people, and enacted the grace of God to bridge the gap that human beings had created between themselves and their Creator. Jesus lived and healed. He confronted power and died. He transfigured death and rose. His triumph is that of life and love, not of arrogance or vainglory.

This Jesus summons us to bear his name and join in his work, rejecting the sins and errors that he rejected in life – pride, privilege, violence – and adopting the virtues of peace, compassion, generosity, and humility. Truthfully, we continue to have a lot to be humble about. Two thousand years of following Jesus has far too many examples of Christians choosing pride over compassion, privilege over generosity, and violence over peace. As Debie Thomas asks at, “What is it about power that deafens us to the Word?  Maybe Tiberius, Pilate, Caiaphas, and Herod can’t receive a fresh revelation from God because they presume to hear and speak for God already.  After all, they’re in power.  Doesn’t that mean that they embody God’s will automatically?  If not, well, who cares? They already have pomp, money, military might, and the weight of religious tradition at their disposal. They don’t need God.”

My message, my story, is that human beings need God, whether poor or rich – but that wealth and power can and often do conceal that need. My message and story is that God is there for us at any time and any place.

What is your message? What is your story? You’ve had pieces from four messengers today: Malachi, Zechariah, John, and Isaiah – John quoted Isaiah, you see. OK, you’ve heard some portion of five messengers, to include myself. What is your message of grace? What are your experiences of peace? What do you know of God’s work in the world? What can you tell of God’s work in your soul?

It’s a funny thing about a story. Somebody has to tell it. And as I hope you know, you are somebody. Tell your story.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire service of December 5, 2021. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Why is the sermon different when delivered from when prepared? Well, these things happen.

The image is the Birth of John the Baptist in the Baltimore Prayer Book by Clarence Eugene Woodman; The Catholic Publication Society (1888)- This file has been extracted from another file: Manualofprayersf00cath.djvu, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on December 5, 2021

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