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Laying the Foundation

“Laying the Foundation”

December 5, 2021

Luke 1:57-80

2nd Sunday of Advent

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were

amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’

For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

   in the house of his servant David,

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

   that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

   and has remembered his holy covenant,

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness

   before him all our days.

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 knowledge of salvation to his people

   by the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God,

   the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared

publicly to Israel.


When I was in the little gap between high school and college, I took a trip with other folks from my annual conference to the country of Mozambique. Our specific goal in the trip was to learn from the people of the Xia Xia United Methodist Church and help them in the construction of a much-needed school building. This was an intentional reversal in goals from past mission teams where the team itself would come in with suitcases full of bibles and their own set of blueprints for a building. After decades, really centuries, of this model, it was beginning to dawn on us that that model put us, the missionaries at the center of the story. The people of Xia Xia had already developed a thriving church on their own and had for centuries been developing building practices that suited their culture and climate. So the most helpful thing we could do was to come as students and willing workers. And what we did that week was foundation work. Literally and figuratively. I learned a lot about the nature of God pounding dirt in the bottom of a trench.

This Advent we are using the metaphor of home to describe what it’s like to prepare ourselves for Christmas and the arrival of Christ. Sometimes it feels like we’re far away from the home we want to see; a home where there is justice and love and peace. That’s what we talked about last week. Feeling far away from the home we want to see can make us long for something better. And that’s not all bad.

So this week we return to the metaphor of home. But instead of cultivating hope

through a longing for something better, we roll up our sleeves and set to work building the home we want to see. This week we lay the spiritual foundation. This is what Advent continues to be about for us. Believing that there can be a better world and that we can help build that better world. But how?

Let’s ask Zechariah. Who? Zechariah is the husband of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth and

if you’re a little fuzzy on all that, it’s okay. And he’s not exactly a well-known player in the run up to Christ’s birth and he certainly doesn’t appear in any of our nativity

scenes. But he has what we should call a foundational part in the story and that’s why we hear about him today. Zechariah is not just the cousin-in-law of Mary, he’s also about to be a dad and fatherhood hasn’t come naturally to Zechariah. You see, he was quite old when God told him he’d be a dad. And instead of responding with thankfulness to the news of his fatherhood, Zechariah basically said, “Are you sure?

Prove it to me, God.” Perhaps an honest answer, but not the kind of faith that God was hoping for. And so God decides that Zechariah will be mute for the rest of his wife’s pregnancy, unable to speak. Maybe this was Elizabeth’s dream… but it certainly wasn’t Zechariah’s.

This is the foundation story of John the Baptist’s birth, the child that Zechariah and

Elizabeth had. But even more so, it’s the story of one dad’s transformation. The

moment when Zechariah got his ability to speak back was the moment he confirmed that the child would be called John. This broke hugely with a Jewish tradition in which first born sons were always named after their father. For Zechariah to say that the child’s name would be John meant that Zechariah had to put aside the pride of his own legacy and name. He had to take himself out of the center of the story and make this

about what God would and could do through his son.

That is a good foundation building lesson. So often we want to build something that we ourselves will play a prominent part in. It’s so hard to imagine helping to create a foundation for a better world that we may never see completed. We can’t imagine being just one small part of something bigger that’s hard to see and understand. But this is the role of the foundation. That it be solid and that it be unseen. Laying the foundation is about humility. Allowing something else to stand on your shoulders, to grow strong with your blessing, not your name.

Laying a good foundation is often about doing the ground work and then stepping out of the way. It takes intentional humility.

When I think about foundational work, I think about our children in 2021. I think about how preparing for Christmas has to also mean providing a safe space for every child to grow up and become strong. So often at Christmas, we think we accomplish this by creating a huge mound of presents under the tree. And so we fill our shopping lists with gadgets and toys and we spend lots of money in an effort to create some kind of foundation built on having more stuff. But what kind of spiritual house is started when Christmas begins with a mound of stuff?

I heard this week about a family in our congregation in which the grandmother gives the grandchildren an amount of money for Christmas. But the money has strings attached. They are to spend the money on something that will make the world a better place. Pretty neat, right? Actions like this start to build a foundation that pull us and our children out of the center of the Christmas story and instead teach us how to be builders of a strong foundation that will make a better world with our blessing, not our name.

After Zechariah learned this lesson of taking himself out of the center of the story, he regained his voice. And with it he immediately began to sing a song giving thanks to God and also offering a blessing for his son. This father didn’t know everything this child would be, but he did know that God would use him for something good. And God did. That strong, self-less foundation Zecharaiah and Elizabeth gave John the Baptist became a strong, self-less foundation that then support Jesus in his ministry. Here is what Zechariah sang:

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 knowledge of salvation to his people

   by the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Foundational work is about figuring out what is most needed for the future ahead and offering your best. Sometimes that means stepping in and offering a hand.

Sometimes this means stepping back and getting out of the way. But always it means praying for an outcome that can’t yet be seen and trusting God’s imagination to build from blueprints and hope for a dream yet fulfilled.

Let us pray.

This world is full of threats that seem to shake our foundations. As we emerge from aweek full of too many sad stories about children and teenagers in harm’s way, help us,

O God, to know what steps are needed to build a foundation of peace in this world.

With your tender mercy, make a bright dawn break upon us. Give light to those who sit in darkness and guide our feet into the way of peace.

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