Point, Counterpoint

Zechariah finds his voice. Or rather, it is given back to him. New and improved. If you missed Zech’s back story, read about it here. It matters to what happens next.

Songs matter, as we’ve determined. Scripture tells us that what comes out of our mouths shows clearly what’s in our hearts. Where is that more certain than a song that bursts forth, unrehearsed, in jubilant, or horrified, feeling?

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Photo by Ronald Rivas on Unsplash

The Israelites could not find their voice in exile, even though they were commanded to sing. In their grief, no words came.

( But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
 Psalm 137.4)

In Zechariah’s relief and joy, words come whirling out like a waterfall during spring rain.

Finding a Voice

This is what that voice says, or sings:

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior
    from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised
    through his holy prophets long ago.

 Now we will be saved from our enemies
    and from all who hate us.
 He has been merciful to our ancestors
    by remembering his sacred covenant—
 the covenant he swore with an oath
    to our ancestor Abraham.
 We have been rescued from our enemies
    so we can serve God without fear,
 in holiness and righteousness
    for as long as we live.

“And you, my little son,

    will be called the prophet of the Most High,
    because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
 You will tell his people how to find salvation
    through forgiveness of their sins.
 Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,[i]
 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace.”

(Luke1.68-79)

What would we have said after over nine months? Zechariah’s first words sing a song of praise to God. Praise and gratitude. These are top of mind for him—the first thing that comes tumbling out of lips that haven’t formed words in nearly a year. They must have felt hoarse, straining through a throat dry from disuse, muscles atrophied from lack of exercise.

He sings praise to God. Immediately.

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Photo by Mike Lewis HeadSmart Media on Unsplash

Praise and Gratitude

I can imagine him cradling his son in this tender moment, seeing the child’s future. Zechariah knows his boy’s great privilege—“He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.”

He must also know the cost—prophets were not historically beloved. Zechariah must have a glimpse of the pain that will come to his family along with the great joy. Nevertheless, his first words are praise and gratitude.

Kindness and Light

His next are also kind of amazing. He speaks of rescue, mercy, peace, light and forgiveness. John will be a firebrand – but his father is different. As we saw two weeks ago, Mary, too, shines in the rebellious, single-minded visionary strength of youth. Her song trumpets joy at the renewal of creation as it was meant to be—and thus the overthrow of human institutions of oppression. She does not shrink from speaking, singing, truth to power.

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Zechariah offers a gentler viewpoint, the experience of age that has seen and known and treads lightly in a harsh world. That he has quite recently been forced to listen, to hear the voices of others, to see their need and their viewpoint, I think changes his words here from what they might have been.

He speaks soft words, words of quiet and hope. Words that do indeed cry for a Savior who will change the world, but less a warrior than a pastor.

John will call people to repent. He will be rough and wild.

Zechariah knows that God’s mercy must fall on us for our repentance—that we are all in need, all fall short.

He realizes the truth Paul will later write:

 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2.4)

It’s his kindness that leads us to repentance.

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Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Zechariah is a pastor at heart. He cares deeply about the people. This is why he is worthy to offer prayers for the people. You know he is earnestly praying, deeply hoping, grieving, expecting with them right there in the temple.

He is thrilled that their salvation has come—their darkness is over.

Zechariah’s pastor’s heart and experience make him the perfect parent for one who is to pave the way for the savior.

His kindness leads you to repentance.

How much do we need Zechariahs today? Those who will remind people, recall them, turn them back whit words of kindness—not judgment, anger, or fear? The world is desperate with the need for a quiet soul.

Mary is the point—Zechariah is the counterpoint. Together, they tell a gospel story that many of us try to separate. Jesus is both/and. He is a personal savior of peace and a societal savior of systems rife with sin.

There is room and need for both.

Both/And

In Zechariah, we see a savior who offers us individual salvation and relationship, guidance and mercy, light and hope. We see a Messiah who will later say—“Come to me —I will give you rest.” We imagine a Savior who will touch the heads of tax collectors and prostitutes and tell them they are valuable in the kingdom.

You also see a savior of the world in Mary’s Jesus—A king for justice and rightness and reconciliation in the entire created order.

It’s not one or the other.

It’s not one at expense of the other.

It’s both/and.

They cannot be separated.

The gospel is a gospel for each person and for the world.

It is good news for all of it. The entire mess.

It is reconciliation for everything—everything.

These two songs together give us the picture of the whole gospel and the whole savior. They are the songs of a pastor and a prophet, and they sing a beautiful duet.

Like Zechariah, perhaps we should listen.

My Choices Are Limited







The month of May. OK, April 20-May 20 to be exact, because we don’t like to start projects when normal people would. Our month for eating only seven different foods. All month.


As a reminder, my daughter and I are embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. We are tired of excess. And we want to find our hidden caches of it that sneak up on us. Most of all, we want to find what God is saying in the searching.

The first month of this seven, we are concentrating on food. How many food choices do we typically have? How much does the average person waste? How many stinking times do I grab something out without even thinking once, let alone twice? How does that assumed abundance ultimately affect the expectations I believe for what I deserve?

And what if we self-limited our choices to just seven? How would that teach me something about the lives of others, and the life I believe I should get to keep?

Now, abundance of food choices has not really been an issue for me lately. In fact, in the past ten months, I’ve been what you might call “dietetically limited.” (I wasn’t even sure dietetically was a word. But spellcheck does not deny me the pleasure.) After a virus that triggered a latent case of celiac disease, I have spent nearly a year unable to eat much food and unable to process most. It’s been an experience.

Many people have gushed over how good I look. (I.e., no longer forty pounds overweight.) One of my dearest friends, who can always be counted on to be real, put it differently last week.

****
Friend: So, are you stabilizing now? Like, not losing any more weight? Because you look a little . . .

Me: Concentration camp chic?

Friend: No, that’s not the way I’d put it. Exactly . . .

****
Yeah. So, too much food has not really been an issue.

In fact, I welcomed the chance to narrow it down to seven foods I know my body can work with. Maybe, by the end of a month, things would get a jump start back toward normal if I avoided anything that might upset the system. (Which is, well, just about anything.)

And I do feel better. Much better.

Which is why it’s funny that I’m being a little bipolar about the whole 7 foods thing. One minute, I’m all “I could do this forever—I love how easy it is!” and ten minutes later it’s more, “I would sell my firstborn child for the tiniest corner of a (gluten free) brownie!”

You can’t please some people.

OK, so I wonder. The things about this month I rejoice in: 

  • The ease of shopping. (7 things. I don’t even need a list.) 
  • The simplicity of meal prep. (A sliced tomato for dinner vegetable/fruit. Always. A banana and egg for lunch. Soooo easy.) 
  • The mindlessness of menu planning. (Chicken, fish, or fried rice for dinner tonight? And . . . a tomato.) 

These, to me, are huge bonuses. So much space in my refrigerator, schedule, and mental life is freed up.


But what about the people I’m supposed to be thinking about—the ones for whom this is every day? The ones who never get to think “what shall I cook today?” because the choice is always the same. If there is anything at all. The people who would consider my seven things a list so spectacularly varied and nutritious they could scarcely imagine eating off it all the time.


All those amazing lessons I’m supposed to learn from “depriving myself”? When I think about these people, it all seems so . . . so . . . still All. About. Me. 

Any conclusions I come away with still seem so minimal compared the the one huge conclusion that no matter what I take away, I will still be privileged compared to most of the other images of God on this planet. If I flat out starved myself, I would still be exercising a choice to do that, something so many do not have. The very fact that I have choices at all. And, that I am of (reasonably) sound mind and body to make them. Have you ever really thought about that??

So maybe that the lesson I’m taking away from month one? That my mere existence in this time and place puts me at an incalculable advantage no matter what. And what does that mean? Because surely God did not give me that gift to watch me say a (sort of) grateful grace at every meal and go on with life as usual.


I’m getting what Jen says in her book Interrupted: 

“I started hearing my gospel narrative through the ears of the Other, and a giant whole bunch of it didn’t even make sense. Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context, and I’m no theologian, but surely that is problematic.

There is a biblical benchmark I now use. Here it is:

If it isn’t also true for a poor

 single Christian mom in 

Haiti, it isn’t true. Theology 

is either true everywhere or it isn’t true 

anywhere.”

I don’t think a theology of “God thank you for all my blessings you’ve blessed me with, The End,” would make sense to that Haitian mom. I don’t think she’d understand at all if I assumed I just have so much because He just loves me so stinkin’ much. I’m incredibly adorable, after all. 

What would that be saying He thinks of her?

I think if she ever read Isaiah 58 or much of the gospels she’d wonder if I ever had.

I don’t know where this is going to go. But I know I’ve got to ask the hard questions of why I have so many choices. And I know that when God starts getting us to ask why, anything can happen.