...most honorable Theophilus...
What a powerful thing it is to be called to a primary relationship with God. I am not talking about the usual, semi-passive detente we usually exist in with the Almighty. That relationship is akin to the way we relate to a person living near us in our neighborhood who happens to leave for work or school around the same time we do every day...we nod, perhaps say "Good Morning," or "Have a good one..." and then we are on our respective ways. Just a simple polite nod on other mornings will move us all along; but to be in a more intimate, shared journey with God through the day, now that is something. God is so much more than we are, and life in God so much more than we can anticipate or plan: in order for us to move beyond a nodding acquaintance means a sort of submission that most of the culture of today might find alarming.
Consider Israel: after all the efforts that go into affirming Covenant with God, after all the fits and starts and the long lists of "do's and don't's" they struggle to adopt, after all the organizing by tribe and band, after all that they finally being to move, but it is in fits and starts. They move when the cloud lifts from the tent of meeting. They camp when it abides. There is no revealed pattern, just a commitment to rise when the Spirit says rise and rest when the Spirit says rest. Even when some grumble for meat, conventional methods of finding food must be surrendered to God's will, and a shower of quails. The lesson for the day? Rely on, and trust in God. Easy in any given, discreet moment; but are we willing to let that become a routine in our lives? Can we transform our more regularized, nodding acquaintance with God (as with our neighbor) into a more primary, mutual linkage that knits us more profoundly into God's purpose, into God's kingdom?
Luke opens with just such an invitation. If you pray the Daily Office of the Episcopal Church, and use the canticles in the Book of Common Prayer in a regular rotation, then the Song of Zechariah is a familiar one to you.
What causes this man to offer such a hymn of praise to God as he greets his newborn son, John-the one we will call "the Baptist?" A simple promise from God that he and his wife will have a son, one who will point the way to the Messiah.
Zechariah is a priest serving in the Temple, and is selected by lot to make the incense offering in the holy of holies. He is sent into a place where only the clean, the anointed are allowed to venture, alone. Imagine his surprise, his fear, when he finds that he is not alone. God's angel is there with him, and tells him the good news. That good news was going to change his life, the life of his wife...and, ultimately, the way the world knows God. His response is to balk, to wonder...to doubt. Could we offer any less? To accept the word of the angel is to embrace a way of being that breaks him, and us, out and away from that simple, acceptable and non-threatening nodding acquaintance with God. It makes God's will and actions the center of the story of our lives.
Zechariah's reward for his reticence? Silence. He can't speak until his son is born and presented for his naming ceremony. It is then, when he asserts that the child will be named John, that he can speak again...and he sings this song of praise. He has learned his lesson, and that song-along with Mary's hymn of praise-now set the tone for the Gospel of Luke, and for the way the Church is called to engage the world for as long as we continue to learn a life of service to the world through an increasing and deepening submission to our Lord, our Savior, our God....