Today’s author is Prince of Peace member, Scott Tunseth.

Our journey through Advent is already at a close. It feels like the time has passed so quickly, especially with no snow on the ground (at least as of the moment I write this). We have heard portions of today’s story from Luke 1 about the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. Though Elizabeth has been barren, which she regards as a “disgrace” that she has endured among her people (1:25), but angel of the Lord came to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple and declared: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John” (1:13).

“His name is John,” Sacred History of the New Testament by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld ( St. Petersburg, Russia, 1873)

Whenever such a promise appears in the Bible, the results are the same: a woman who could not previously bear children or who was too old to conceive gets pregnant, and the promised child is born. In this case, the child is named John (1:57-63). Zechariah had lost his ability to speak, but when he writes the name of child on a tablet for all to see, his tongue is freed and he praises God. And not only that, he is led by the Holy Spirit to prophesy about his son John (1:67-79). He blesses the Lord God of Israel, who has looked favorably on Zechariah’s people, raising up a savior in the house of David. God has not abandoned the covenant made with their ancestor Abraham. And then, speaking directly about his son John, Zechariah says: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (1:76-77). 

Prophet and preparer. Amazing. Even Jesus needed someone to prepare the way for his ministry on earth. And an important part (perhaps the most important part) of that ministry would be to forgive sins, just as cousin John the Baptist does in his ministry. The message of Christmas flows into and out of the promise of forgiveness. As Zechariah puts it: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us” (1:78). A true promise illuminated! 

God is merciful; God forgives. God casts a shadow over both life and death. As the apostle Paul puts it: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). This is a true Christmas gift. 

I close with this prayer from one of my favorite prayer collections, Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder (Augsburg Fortress, 2005, p. 55):

Unlock the Door of My Heart

Jesus said,
“Your sins are forgiven; 
Rise and walk.”
Forgiveness is an unlocked door
to walk through
Into a wide-whoopee-open world.
Forgiveness is a seed
to water with new dreams and wild risks
until it bears unexpected fruit.
Forgiveness is an enemy-friend
to be born out of,
a quietness beneath the clamor.
Forgiveness is a flower to smell.
a wind at my back,
a gull to scream with,
a pain to laugh beneath,
a burden that carries me.
It is I
becoming We
becoming Yours.
Forgiveness is a song to sing.
O Lord,
unlock the door of my heart.

As the dark awaits the dawn, so we await your light. O Star of promise, scatter night, loving bright, loving bright, till shades of fear are gone. Amen (ELW 261)