The Legend of the Christmas Stocking
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent
Zechariah is a priest in the days of King Herod. He and his wife Elizabeth are getting up in years and though they are righteous before God, they have no children. One day, Zechariah is chosen to enter the Sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. He steps inside while the people stand outside praying—just another day in the life of a priest—that is until the angel shows up beside the altar. Zechariah is, undoubtedly, terrified, which is why the angel quickly responds, “Do not be afraid.” Then God’s messenger continues with the task at hand—delivering God’s message to Zechariah: “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear a son and you will name him John.”
After providing instructions for the boy’s upbringing, the angel foretells how the child will prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah, dumbfounded, asks, “How will I know that this is so? I’m an old man and my wife is getting on in years.” Displeased by Zechariah’s reaction, the angel declares, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” (Ah, an angel with attitude!) Gabriel who appeared to Daniel in the days of old; Gabriel who will soon appear to Mary; this Gabriel now stands before Zechariah. “I have been sent to bring you this good news…but now because you did not believe my words, you will be unable to speak until the day these things occur.”
No doubt, for many years Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for a child but it is unlikely they offered such a prayer that morning. And, with his advanced old age, Zechariah’s shock is reasonable—from our perspective. But how often is our perspective—well—wrong? Could it be that we need another point of view—prehaps from the eyes of a child?
Even though children are considered little more than property in the days of Jesus, he holds them in high regard. You will recall how Jesus responds when the disciples ask him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[i] Later, when children are being brought to Jesus for his blessing, the disciples assume children are a waste of his time but Jesus strongly disagrees, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”[ii]
So, this morning, I invite you to listen to a children’s story, The Legend of the Christmas Stocking, written by Rick Osborne. Together, let us open our hearts and minds to a child’s point of view.
(The children are invited to come forward and the story is read.)
Oh, to see the world through a child’s eyes; to experience a sense of wonder; to be overcome with anticipation. Such is the world of a child, and, as Jesus teaches, “It is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belong.”
Regarding our gospel reading, I have often wondered why the angel seems to have no patience for Zechariah’s doubting spirit. Maybe Gabriel lets old Zechariah have it because Zechariah is a priest. He is in the God-business so if anyone is familiar with the wonders of God, it should be Zechariah. But somewhere along the way, Zechariah has lost his sense of wonder—his sense of anticipation for God making the impossible possible.
Might we be in the same boat as Zechariah? How often have we diligently prayed for something to happen and when it does, we are shocked? Why are we surprised when God does wondrous things? And might God do even more wondrous things if only we asked, believed, expected?
Something else I’ve been pondering: Is it possible that one reason society has become so enamored with Saint Nickolas and reindeer and gifts galore is that the church has lost her sense of wonder? The story of God’s love coming in the flesh to save all of humanity—it is a story that remains the same from generation to generation—and during the season of Advent, we have endless occasions to share it. Ample props are all around—the evergreen tree that demonstrates God’s ever-present love; the Chrismons that tell the story of Jesus through symbols; Christmas stockings that speak of hope and generosity.
Wonder of wonders, just as the Angel Gabriel foretells, a son is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. At the naming ceremony, when the priest looks to Zechariah to confirm the baby’s name, the mute Zechariah asks for a tablet on which he writes, “His name is John.” With the scribbling of a few words, his silence is broken, his tongue is freed, and filled with the Holy Spirit, the old priest praises God like never before.
Like Zechariah, maybe it is time for us to open our mouths and speak the wonder of our faith. People are drawn to stories of wonder—always have been—always will be—because people are forever searching for a word of hope. Truly, through the waters of baptism that claim us and the bread and cup that sustain us, we can do more than we imagine. With God’s grace, we can pay attention to our faith and glimpse God moving and working. With the hope, peace, joy, and love brought into the world through the Christ Child, and with the Holy Spirit empowering us, surely, we can speak our truth—surely, we can sing our song of praise for someone to hear.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] Matthew 18:3
[ii] Matthew 19:14
*Cover Art: Advent Candle Art Week 2 by Stushie; by subscription
Affirmation of Faith by Rev. Rebecca F. Harrison, Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church, Sparks, NV @ https://www.liturgylink.net/2012/11/26/advent-statement-of-faith/