Sunday, December 18, 2016

He Will Go Before

“A man of God came to me; he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed. I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will be with child and will bear a son. So, take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb, until the day of his death.’”  Judges 13:6-7

“He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” Luke 1:15B-17

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  (The Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:76-79)

The foreshadowing has a foreshadow. 

As we enter the final week of preparation for the birth of Jesus, we know through the STUDY leg of our Tripod that salvation history is far broader and more significant than the single night on which the Savior was born. There were countless events that prepared us for and foreshadowed the Messiah.  John the Baptist is the most direct connection.  However, theologians also suggest that even John—the one who prepared the way for Jesus—was foreshadowed.

The Hebrew word nazir means “set apart as sacred, dedicated, vowed.” The rules for taking a Nazirite vow are stated in Numbers 6:2-7:

Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When men or women solemnly take the Nazirite vow to dedicate themselves to the LORD, they shall abstain from wine and strong drink; they may neither drink wine vinegar, other vinegar, or any kind of grape juice nor eat either fresh or dried grapes. As long as they are Nazirites they shall not eat anything of the produce of the grapevine; not even the seeds or the skins. While they are under the Nazirite vow, no razor shall touch their hair.  Until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over, they shall be holy, letting the hair of their heads grow freely. As long as they are dedicated to the LORD, they shall not come near a dead person. Not even for their father or mother, sister or brother, should they defile themselves, when these die, since their heads bear their dedication to God of their dedication to the LORD is over, they shall be holy, letting the hair of their heads grow freely.

Ed Vasicek, in his Sharper Iron blog, suggested that “Because John was a Nazirite from birth Jewish readers would automatically connect him to the two other men in the Old Testament who were also lifelong Nazirites: Samuel and even more especially Samson.”[i] Modern believers might not make such a connection as readily.

Today, the juxtaposition of the readings on the conceptions of Samson and John make this connection by asking us to study and contemplate the roles of Samson and John in preparing the way of the Lord.  Beyond that, there also is another connection we must consider – how Samson’s and John’s parents bore the news of their pending sons.  Both mothers were older (barren) and needed an act of God to conceive.  Yet, when his son was announced to Zechariah, there was disbelief.  So, Zechariah was made mute until the birth of his son as a way to make him believe. 

The muteness of Zechariah stands in stark contrast to his joyful pronouncements when his voice returned and to the prophetic “voice in the wilderness” of John announcing the coming of one greater than he.

Vasicek concludes: ”Although men like Samson, Samuel, and John were men God used in great ways, their special roles to prepare for David—and David’s heir, the Messiah—was their true calling. Despite their differences, they were preludes to what would follow.”

As we bring our faith into the world, Zechariah reminds us to guard against both our unbelief and our tendency toward muteness.  One modern witness who was not mute in the face of evil was Franz Jägerstätter. 

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, O.F.S., (1907 – 1943) was an Austrian conscientious objector during World War II. Jägerstätter was sentenced to death and executed by the Nazis. He was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, in a homily in the martyr’s home parish church of St. Radegund, the village [in Austria] from which Jägerstätter went forth to give his life in witness to Jesus, remarked:

You know, the miracle that Jesus worked in the gospel clearly has been worked in our world through Franz Jägerstätter. In his early life, he did not listen so deeply to God. By coming to know Jesus more deeply, he began to listen. His life was transformed. He became courageous, ready to follow Jesus even if it cost him his life, which it did, but also the miracle is demonstrated in this way: The Nazi authorities thought they could silence Franz, make him mute forever by executing him, but look what has happened. God has worked another miracle because now the voice of Franz, the witness of Franz, is there for the whole world.

Franz is not mute; his life has spoken a message that all the world can now hear, and it’s my prayer and hope that we here today, all of us who are present, will listen to that message proclaimed by Franz through the giving of his life, his witnessing to the teachings of Jesus. Let that voice of Franz, which God has brought forth for all the world to hear, let us hear it, be aware of his witness, say no to war, say yes only to justice, to peace, to love.[ii]

As the late Elie Wiesel reminded us in his life witness: “We must never be bystanders to injustice or indifferent to suffering.” From Auschwitz to Sarajevo, from Srebrenica to Aleppo, we cannot turn our backs, close our wallets and hearts or avert our eyes because we bear the burden of the sinners. 

The Hebrew Bible echoes/foreshadows the modern words and witnesses of Wiesel and Jägerstätter.  “When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked, you must die,’ and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:8-9) 

We ignore this warning at our own peril…

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