57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Luke 1: 57-66 (NRSV)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
I love maps. I always have loved maps. When I was a child, I enjoyed browsing through a Rand McNally Atlas of the United States, imagining where a car might take me when I was old enough to drive. Maps fed my curiosity about unfamiliar places. Maps allowed me to explore what my future might include.
As I entered young adulthood, with my own car, maps became a guide as I ventured into new places. With a map, I could locate a predictable route to my destination. With a map, I could navigate alternative routes when traffic slowed because of road construction or an automobile accident.
As I gravitated toward middle age, maps became a symbol of predictability. I like adventure. I especially like adventure that I can anticipate and make as predictable as possible. Over the course of my life, however, I have learned that some things do not turn out as anticipated. At times, this may generate disappointment; other times, new possibilities.
Perhaps you have your own maps that feed your curiosity, guide you along the way, or provide the comfort of predictability. Perhaps you have imagined, or still imagine, how your future might turn out, for better or worse. Perhaps there have been times when the future has not turned out as you once expected. And that creates the possibility of a new advent.
In Luke’s gospel, Elizabeth once was barren. Her future with Zechariah was predictable: they would have no children. The words of an angel of the Lord altered this anticipated future. She would conceive and bear a son who would be named John. Zechariah could not comprehend this, becoming speechless.
In due time, Elizabeth gives birth to a son. To neighbors and relatives, she predictably will name her son Zechariah after his father. She responds, No; he is to be called John. They turn to Zechariah, who confirms in writing, His name is John, and whose speech then is restored. Filled with awe and wonder the neighbors ask, What then will this child become? They sense, as the hand of the Lord is upon him, that they stand at the advent of something new.
Advent is a powerfully predictable season of the year. For many, it promises to be a time of joy as we prepare for gatherings with family members and friends, share special meals, exchange gifts, and sing familiar carols. For many, it is a predictable time of sorrow, even to the point of barrenness, as we anticipate spending another season alone, missing deceased loved ones, regretting alienated relationships once vibrant, and anticipating that this will be another gift-less Christmas.
For all of the ways we have made Advent predictable, I fear we miss its intended nature. Its predictability centers on God’s sovereignty and initiative to act. Its annual gift to us is an invitation to open ourselves to God’s presence and movement in our lives. Where this takes us is not always predictable. This is the power of Advent ̶ a transforming power that cannot always be mapped.
A Prayer for the Twenty-Seventh Day of Advent
Open us to your presence, O God, that we may experience your power and grace. Open us, that we may discover how you are calling us to grow in faith. Open us, that we may be responsive to others, particularly those for whom Advent is a time of pain. And open us, that we may praise you for your abundant goodness. Amen.
Academic Dean, Richmond
Professor of Ministry and Leadership Development