Word for Word 12/21/22

Rev. Grant VanderVelden
Rev. Grant VanderVelden

For many, a “good Christmas” means just getting through the holidays with minimal conflict. Clenched teeth make it hard to sing most holiday carols, so now is no time for confrontation.

Yet, John the Baptist stands as the Gospel’s necessary Advent precursor - God’s go-to man whose precise charge confronts us and bring us into conflict with ourselves.

“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, to guide our feet into the way of peace,” declares John’s father, Zechariah.

His lyric song in Luke 1 provides a kind of pause, an interruption, in the narrative flow. Turn the page, and what’s next is the most-famous version of the Christmas story! That’s what we’re all so eager to get to this month. Who doesn’t want to jump straight into Luke 2 and once again see that manger, that baby, those exhausted young parents, those angels dancing in the night sky?

But, no. Luke forces our pause.

Just before Zechariah sings of God’s goodness and mercy, everyone is asking faithful questions too-seldom asked during Advent: What gives? What’s going on here? What does this all really mean?  Zechariah’s song is, in part, an answer to that question. The newly minted dad weaves together a rich tapestry of biblical images and paints with bold, vivid strokes, like the rising sun from heaven and the path of peace.  

Luke’s telling of Jesus’s birth is beautiful, vital, and worthy of celebration. But you won’t be ready for the visit of that Christ Child until you take a cue from Luke and thus pause, take time for a few deep and reflective breaths, and so ponder the message John the Baptist must bring you first.

Enlightened and enabled by the Holy Spirit, maybe - just maybe - you and I will repent, change our ways, and center ourselves on the holiness of God that invades our world when Jesus visits this planet. Come, Lord Jesus!

Rev. Dr. Grant M. VanderVelden
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Waukon