On Wednesday, December 11th at 7 pm we will hold our second evening of the Advent PRogram: The Names of Advent. If you did not join us last week, do not be afraid that you missed too much and cannot pick it up. The two sessions are self-standing.
For those who might have missed the last session, here is a recap of what we discussed.
At the time of the Nativity, Judea lived in a darkness that had descended upon the land. Judea, and the rest of historic Israel, was ruled by Herod the Great, who was an Idumean. As such, while he was not a Jew by birth, but his father’s conversion, made him Jewish as well. The Jewish populace in Judea did not view him as really Jewish, and while Herod thought of himself as the King of the Jews, the Judeans did not see it this way.
Herod came to power through bloodshed, having murdered any competitor for the thrown. His rule was known to be violent and oppressive in many ways. Legend has it that he had told his advisers that upon his death, all Judeans were to kill one of their children as a form of mourning for him. Fortunately, this never occurred, but it certainly gives us an idea into his psyche.
For Judea, this type of rule, supported by the Roman empire to whom Herod was loyal, recalled their own history in Egypt. Herod resembling Pharaoh and ways that were too close for comfort. This is the context in which Jesus was born. Perhaps one of the reasons this era was in such a messianic fervor was because of this darkness, a time despair with little hope. While many were able to benefit economically and socially from the Roman, religiously and nationalistically, the Judeans felt squeezed.
Within this context, the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, which are the only two Gospels to provide an account of the Jesus’ birth, tell the story of the Nativity. Luke introduces us to our major characters and the first two are Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Both Zechariah and Elizabeth descend from the priestly tradition. Priests in Israel was a hereditary title, and the scripture tells us that Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, who was the first priest. Zechariah is a priest, performing the duties at the Temple in Jerusalem. It is clear that both Elizabeth and Zechariah are righteous in the eyes of God. However, they have no child. What it must have seemed to them and those around them that this righteous couple did not have child? Was this a sign of God’s disfavor? How embarrassing might it have been for Zechariah to be a priest, one of a very few who could enter into the Holy of Holies and not have a successor in his family?
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth remind us of other couples in the history of Israel; Abraham and Sarah and Elkanah and Hannah. Abraham and Sarah have followed God and yet, have no child, no heir. What is the future of their people and how valid can the promise of God be if it remains unfulfilled? Yet the promise is true and they have Isaac. Elkanah and Hannah have no child, at least Hannah has not child, Elkanah has one by another wife. The time of Hannah was a time in which the people of Israel live in darkness and confusion. In this time, God acts again to bring about an action that leads to God’s plan. The birth of Samuel will help lead Israel into the light of the Reign of David.
But these stories are best summed up in the definition of both Zechariah and Elizabeth, for Zachariah in the Hebrew means “God remembers.” Just as God remembered the children of Israel in Egypt and brought them out of bondage, just as God remembered the promises to Israel even when Israel turned away from God, so now God remembers. God has not forgotten the promise to Israel to lead them out of the darkness. God’s interaction with Zechariah and Elizabeth demonstrates that God remembers.
As we approach Advent and Christmas, our spiritual journey is to remember how God has acting in the past on behalf Israel as well as how God has acted in our own lives. As we remember, we can strengthen our trust in God, a God who acts in the world.
Just as God remembers, God also promises. Elizabeth means the “Oath of God” and refers to the promises that God has made to Israel. God has promised to send God’s Anointed to bring the people of Israel out of the darkness.
So Advent is a time in which we remember God’s promises and trust in those promises.
At our next session on Wednesday, December 11th, we will explore the names of Mary and Joseph. See you at 7 pm!