How does Zechariah react to God’s good news in Luke 1:5-25, 67-80? Fear and doubt. This sermon offers advice on managing the conjoined twins of fear and doubt.
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Do you recognize this guy? What is his name?
He is one of the five emotions inside of Riley’s head in the latest Pixar movie: Inside Out. If you haven’t seen this movie, then I highly recommend it. It tells the story of how the five basic emotions work together inside of an eleven year old girl’s life as she moves from Minnesota to California.
Now, if I were designing this character named Fear, I think I would make a modification.
It would look like this. Meet Fear and Doubt. They are conjoined twins. Doesn’t it seem like fear and doubt always travel together?
Fear and doubt follow us around like a shadow. Whenever we face a new reality it’s like a bright light that shines in our faces. We turn away from the light and there they are. These faithful friends reach out to us and beckon us to retreat into the shadows where it is safe and familiar.
“Don’t risk being exposed by the light,” they say. “Who knows what people might say and do if you let yourself hang out there for all to see?”
It might seem strange that we are talking about fear and doubt on the last day of Advent. Didn’t we light the candle of Joy today? Aren’t we done with the darkness of Advent and ready for Christmas, already?
Not quite yet. Don’t forget the matron saint of Advent.
Hi, I’m Sadness.
We will celebrate the joy of Christmas on Thursday. Today we have one more opportunity to deal with the deep emotions of Advent and the Wait of Winter.
The reason we’re going here is because, as I was studying the text for this weekend it jumped out at me. Zechariah has this amazing encounter with Gabriel, the messenger of God. The light of God’s reality shines in his face, and what does he do? He is afraid and he doubts.
He’s human. It’s what we do.
I think this is a really appropriate topic as we approach Christmas and the New Year. We’re all trying really hard to be caught up in the sentimentality of Christmas, but the reality of our fear and doubt nips at our heels and lurks in the shadow of all the joyful lights.
What is causing you fear and doubt right now?
I’m sure we could all come up with a long list. On the micro scale, maybe this is the first Christmas without a particular loved one at the table. Or, perhaps your family dynamic has changed and you’re not sure how things are going to work out. And then, on the macro level, we see Bombings in public squares, shootings in public schools, and a presidential election year looming on the horizon.
And Fear and Doubt scream in our ears.
So, my big question today, is how do we deal with these twins named Fear and Doubt?
We can get some clues from our text.
The story is about a man named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.
Here’s a fun fact. Zechariah’s name means God remembers and Elizabeth’s name means God has promised.
They are devout and faithful people. Zechariah is a priest. It’s a really great job. He is among the top class among his people. His job is to go before God as a representative of the people.
Let’s pause for a moment and connect to the big story that we’ve been telling since September. God has made a promise. God creates in order to make a good and trustworthy world. Humans struggle with God and usually mess things up. God promises to rescue us from our self-destruction. God promised to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child in their old age and that, through this child, a great nation would come, and that, through this nation all nations would be blessed.
The people struggled with God for centuries, usually betraying God and worshipping foreign idols and mistreating the poor and the weak.
Eventually the people of Jerusalem were carried off into exile by the Babylonians.
The Babylonians were taken over by the Persians and they let the Jewish people return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. That’s what Pastor Mark taught us about two weeks ago.
We learned from Ezra that they returned with a mixture of Joy and Tears (sounds familiar, right?)
Over 400 years have passed since that story.
The Persians were overtaken by the Greeks under the leadership of Alexander the Great.
Then his empire disintegrated and the world was conquered by the Roman Empire.
The people of Israel were tired and discouraged. Their lives were full of violence, fear, and doubt. Year after year they trudge on under the weight of Oppression, pain, and suffering.
So, here, in the midst of this drudgery, is an old priest named Zechariah. He has followed the law his whole life. He has served in the temple for his entire career. Month after month he comes into the temple, he lights the incense, he says the prayers, reads about God’s promises, and walks back into the streets that are lined with Roman guards and suffering people.
He is waiting, and it seems that sadness is the queen.
And then it happens. He is confronted with the voice of God through the Angel Gabriel. “Zechariah, your wife, Elizabeth, will have a child. This child will be the prophet who will announce the Messiah, and you will name him John.”
John? Why would I name him that? That is not a family name.
Another fun fact. John means God gives graciously. Zechariah, it’s time to stop looking backward and to start moving forward. Something new is about to happen.
The light of God’s reality shines in Zechariah’s face.
The reality of God is often shocking and odd. It doesn’t fit into our neat little preconceived packages of how God is supposed to function in the world. When it shines in our face it makes us feel naked. This is especially true for those of us who are well dressed in the clothing of religious knowledge and power, like Zechariah.
So, what do we do when confronted with God’s truth? More often than not, we turn and speak with our twinned shadow companions. Fear and doubt led Zechariah to question Gabriel and say, “How will I know that this is true?” For, obviously, it takes a while for pregnancy to become apparent. Hidden in his question is the deeper question, “What will people think of me if I tell them this news?”
So, Zechariah is silenced. He can’t say anything for nine months, while John grows inside Elizabeth. He must sit with his friends, Fear and Doubt. And wait.
What about you? What are Fear and Doubt saying to you right now?
How do we deal with these self-absorbed voices?
There are three things that we can do:
The first thing we can do is…
- Thank God for Fear and Doubt.
We must first acknowledge their presence and thank them for the true gift from God that they are. That’s one of the reasons I really love the movie, Inside Out. It reminds us that fear (and doubt) has its place. They are there to protect us, and we must always listen to them, for sometimes they speak truth and keep us from doing something stupid. We don’t want to get rid of them completely.
However, the second thing we can do is…
- Face the Light.
While Fear and Doubt can protect us, sometimes they simply feed our selfishness and pride. When that is the case, we must painfully turn away from them and simply stand naked in the light of truthfulness that God shines on us as they continue to tremble in the cold shadow behind us.
Zechariah’s fear led him to be silenced for nine months. A man who made his living as a religious leader had to sit silent while God’s truth gestated. Then, when the full light of truth was born from Elizabeth, his mouth was opened and he spoke some of the most beautiful words in scripture. We often call it the Benedictus found in Luke 1:67-79.
Zechariah’s words shine like a light and reveal a painful truth.
We need a savior.
Being a Christian is not a self-help program or a list of rules to follow to get to Heaven. The bright light of God’s truth reveals that we are all in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. That bondage looks different for each of us, but we are so deep in it that we need a savior. We need to be rescued.
We see this message again and again in Zechariah’s song. God rescues us. God is the one who saves us, because we cannot save ourselves. And we, on this side of the cross, know that God’s salvation comes through Jesus Christ, and that is the Light of Good News that brings Joy to all nations.
When we are honest with ourselves and with God, we face into the light, and fear and doubt stay behind us.
The last thing we can do is…
- Walk into the Promise.
Zechariah was to name his son John, because God was about to give the gift. Things were starting to move in a new direction. Salvation was coming to the world.
Here’s the thing about God’s salvation through Jesus. The light of the Gospel of Jesus is light of dawn. It begins with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not yet completely fulfilled in the world. God saves us, period.
Look at v. 74-79. God saves us so that we may serve God without fear…and then at the end of v. 79, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, we are invited, by the grace of God, to work with God to make this world into a good and trustworthy community, for all people. That is God’s mission and God’s Promise.
The light of dawn casts long shadows of fear and doubt. They will always be our constant companions until the day that Jesus returns, and so, we must continue to walk.
I leave you with Zechariah’s rebuttal to fear and doubt. Let’s stand and read this together:
That we, being rescued…might serve him without fear…
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.”
May we stand naked in the light of these words and walk, together, into the way of peace.