You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:14-17
Zechariah was in the sanctuary where he was joined by an angel with an astounding message that seemed to turn Zechariah’s world upside down. His barren wife, Elizabeth, was going to conceive and there would be a child, a son, for which they had longed for so many years. The angel even gave the child a name, John, and included a short job description of what he would do when he grew up.
Usually children became part of the family business as soon as they were able to perform even small tasks. By tradition, John would become a priest in the temple, but the angel said that God had other plans for him.
The Jews believed that the great prophet Elijah would return to herald the impending arrival of a messiah for whom they longed, a king who would defeat all enemies and bring the reign of God to the whole world. John was not going to be Elijah, but, infused with the Holy Spirit before his birth, he would have the power and spirit of Elijah and make the people ready for a messiah quite different from the expected.
I wonder how John would be received today? Would he be like one of those street-corner preachers or television evangelists, waving their well-worn Bibles in their hands as they shout for the people to repent and be saved? Would he ascend the lofty pulpits of some of the great churches and cathedrals to proclaim the messiah’s coming to bring freedom and peace? Would he sit in the living room of a house church or maybe even a table in a pub and speak of the kingdom of God that was coming? Would he be out among the homeless and destitute, wearing ragged jeans and a tattered shirt but offering comfort and hope? Where would we find him and would we really hear and respond to him?
As we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child, what voices are we hearing? Are they the voices of fear, anxiety, and anger, or are they voices of healing, wise counsel and hope? What voices are we presenting to the world in our own words and actions?
Maybe messages of hope, healing, and wisdom are like voices crying in the wilderness, a place of emptiness where it would not be easily heard, but if enough voices took up the message, it could ring out around the world.
Advent might be a good time to try it, wouldn’t it?