“You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, to be a preparer of the Way, to give knowledge of salvation to the people, to give light to those in the darkness, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79
Last year on the second Sunday in Advent, “Peace Sunday,” the congregation I serve welcomed a baby girl into the larger family of God on the occasion of her baptism. After the baptism itself has taken place, it is my custom to walk the isles with the newly baptized one in my arms while the congregation reads the baptismal blessing and church covenant.
We walked slowly, this child and I, listening to the congregation speak words of blessing and redemption, promising to be her teachers, guides, and advocates as she grows in life and faith. I whispered to her to listen closely for these voices that would help her encounter the world as it is and to work with her to transform it into the world it should be. I told the congregation that in addition to the promises we adults make, we also promise our new sister in Christ to have the courage to receive what she has to offer us, even now as small and vulnerable as she is, and to let her be our guide into the future with hope and joy.
And as I looked down into her face, I saw perhaps what Zechariah saw in the face of his son: that each child has a song of redemption within them, each has knowledge to share and light to give, and the greatest blessing of all: to remind us that in God’s realm, we are led by little children into the ways of peace.
Yet Zechariah’s song is one that comes with its own season of Advent. One of the reasons I like this story is none other than for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy, Zechariah can’t say a word. Six months in to Zechariah’s angelically imposed gag order, the very-pregnant Elizabeth and just-starting-to-show Mary share beautiful words of blessing, encouragement, and prayer for one another and the children in their wombs. I imagine Zechariah is sitting off to the side, listening; unable to chime in or add his opinion or offer a male perspective.
Perhaps nine months of listening to the Spirit-filled praises and hopes of the women in his life gave Zechariah much to ponder and process, so that when he was able to speak, the first thing out of his mouth was praise – unending praise to God for God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, and salvation to the world and to his own family. All Zechariah had to do to see salvation and redemption was to look upon his infant son, John, whose name means “God’s gift.”
Babies tend to bring out the deepest hopes and dreams of their parents and the community into which they are welcomed. John brought this tendency out in his parents, and in his father in particular, who commissioned and blessed him, and also included himself among those who would be guided and taught by one who would grow up to be “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
This child was raised on prophetic lullabies to inspire and anoint John for the task set upon him: to grow up strong in spirit, trained in the wilderness to be a mouthpiece for God before the poor and powerful alike calling all to the waters for baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. The parent’s song of redemption anticipates the ministry of the child: fearlessness, understanding, and faithful service to God in the right paths.
This is how we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ – singing songs of redemption to the children in our midst and to one another, telling the stories of God’s love and faithfulness across all generations, and walking courageously together on the paths of peace.
May we make it so. Amen.
Rev. Mary Apicella is the Pastor of Federated Church in Brooklyn, CT.