12/10/2000, Advent 2, Year C
Room in the Inn-- Again!
here was no room in the Inn for Joseph and Mary that first Christmas night much like Bethlehem is closed again this year. (Lk.2:7). There is "No Room in the Inn-- Again." It is a wise move to cancel large public celebrations of Christmas this year in Bethlehem because of the war that is currently being waged between Jews and Muslims, the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael. Here is a quote from an article in The London Times, dated last Tuesday, entitled, "Vigilante rule brings anarchy to Bethlehem," "Anarchy began to spread throughout the occupied territories yesterday with the emergence of Jewish militia groups and armed Palestinian gangs refusing to take orders from their central authorities. An estimated 293 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, of whom about 35 are Jews. Yesterday Israeli soldiers shot dead one man near Bethlehem.." Inns are closed to tourists and the little town of Bethlehem is hiding under forced darkness every night.
Christ was born into a hostile world and we continue to celebrate Christmas in a society closed to Christmas' potential Glad Tidings to all people. Within our own group we welcome Christmas with open hearts, but our American society in general is becoming more and more closed to the faith upon which we were founded as a nation. The most current example is the article in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution concerning a science professor at our University of Georgia who is under investigation for inviting students to his home for a discussion of "Religion and Science."
Ishmaelite and Hebrew relations were mostly amicable during The Old Testament era. Ishmael, the firstborn son of Abraham and his Egyptian concubine Hagar, assumed that he would be the heir. However, when Isaac was born to Abraham's wife Sarah, a natural jealousy arose. Genesis 21 records that Sarah saw Ishmael making fun of his baby brother, and she became angry and insisted that her servant girl, take her son Ishmael into banishment. However, Abraham prophesied that Ishmael would become the father of a great nation: the Ishmaelites, Midianites, Moabites and Edomites, who are today's Palestinians who were forced from their ancient homeland by a United Nations decree after WW II.
Throughout the Old Testament the bloodlines of the Jews and Arabs crossed. Ruth, the Moabite, married Naomi's son and is listed as an ancestor of Jesus (Matt. 1:5). King David's sister Abigail was married to a the Ishmaelite, Jether (I Chr. 2:17). Among the hundreds of wives of King Solomon, many were of Arabian descent. All of this intermarriage indicates God's universal love for all people everywhere. The royal lineage was royally mixed.
Christianity was intended to bring all of the descendants of Abraham back together. Indeed, Jesus' Great Missionary Commission was for His Church to, "Go and make disciples of all nations." (Matt. 28:19, NLT). In fact, God's original covenant with Abraham included a promise that "All the families of the earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3).
This brings us back to our text where Zechariah is found speaking about the birth of his and Elizabeth's son, John, Jesus' cousin, who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. A part of Zechariah's poetic pronouncement was a reminder of the Abrahamic Covenant which was now being opened up to all people everywhere. Yet, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace is locked up tight as a barrel this Christmas and the usual celebration drawing believers from all over the world has been silenced. If ever the Holy Land needed peace it is now.
I pray that deep in the ancient Grotto under the connected churches of the Nativity there can be a gathering. Perhaps an ecumenical group representing the many denominations and cultures of Christendom can have a small celebration of our Savior's birth. Perhaps that tiny light can once again bring hope for peace among peoples of our planet. Just a small light, a small voice crying out, perhaps an angel's song is all we need to start over again. Zechariah's prayer for his son was that, "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.." (3:78-79, NRSV).
Zechariah's vision, given to him by angels, was that his son John would become the one who would prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah, the Light of the World. In Luke 3 we find John, who had lived most of his life in the desert, becoming more open about the evangelical message of his cousin, Jesus. Luke 3 tells us that John was, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight... And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (v. 4-6). John was not "The Light" himself but was the "forerunner," the one who would make the people's hearts tender so that they could recognize the message of the Messiah .
The Wonderful News that we experience and proclaim this Christmas is that there is Hope for peace on earth. The story of Zechariah is a story of hope amid adversity. Although he and Elizabeth were respected for their righteousness it was considered a lack of God's blessing when a couple was childless. They were old and had long given up on having a child. Yet, one day when the old Priest was alone in the Holy Place of the Temple he was startled by an angel who informed him that they would produce a son. In fact, God had chosen this old couple to give birth to the forerunner of the long promised Savior of the World. This was too much for Zechariah and he doubted. As a result, God prevented him from being able to speak. It is interesting to note that although he could not recant his doubt with words he did fulfill his role of becoming the father of the one who would call all Israel to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Our text from Luke 1 records the first words that he was able to speak upon the birth of his beloved son John. These words of faith are the last we hear of Zechariah. Like so many of us, he performed his calling and quietly passed from the scene.
It causes us to wonder what role God might have for us.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor