Never too old: Luke 1:5-25

I don’t often remember dreams that I have, but I had one recently that was very vivid and realistic and stuck with me when I woke up.  To put this dream in context you need to know that I had my 75th birthday in late October, and my wife Diana will also be 75 on New Year’s Day.   When we got engaged 20 years ago we were both in our early 50’s and Diana was teaching middle school.  When her students found out she was engaged they asked her if we planned to have a family!  She assured them we had both been there and done that. 

But in my recent dream we became parents of twins.  And if that wasn’t enough of a miracle we seemed to have done so without going thru labor and delivery.  Someone just presented the two babies to us, a boy and a girl, and they were both already named.  I didn’t remember the boy’s name when I woke up, but the girl was named Mary; like Jesus’ mother but it also happened to be Diana’s mother’s name. That Mary died 3 years ago at the age of 100.  But to make the dream even more surreal in the midst of becoming parents who have Medicare pay the maternity bills, in my dream we were making plans for my mother-in-law’s funeral while holding our two newborns.  The full circle of life was there in that one interesting if confusing scene.

That dream during this Advent season turned my thoughts to the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah in our Scripture for today.  They too were way beyond child-bearing age, and we can understand Zechariah’s reluctance to believe it was possible for his vision to be true.  But here’s the problem.  Zechariah was a priest, and as such one would assume he knew the Scriptures and would have been familiar with the story of Abram and Sarai who laughed at the angels who told them they were to be parents in their old age. 

One aside – there is a big difference between “knowing” the Abraham and Sarah story and really believing it.  I love this illustration of the difference between believing and trusting.  In the days before we had television and the internet to entertain us there were high wire artists who would perform in unbelievable places.  One of those dare devils was planning to walk a tightrope across part of Niagara Falls.  A huge crowd gathered to witness this daring attempt, but before climbing up to the wire the man walked among the crowd asking people if they thought he could successfully walk across that rope from one side to the other.  One after another the people said, “No, I think you’re crazy, but I want to watch any way.” 

Finally he found one enthusiastic fan who said, “Yes, of course I believe you can do it.”  And the aerial artist then asked, “Do you think I can do it pushing a wheelbarrow?”  “Sure, why not, said the fan.  I believe you can do that.”  “Good,” said the artist.  “You get in the wheelbarrow, and I’ll push.”  Zechariah wasn’t willing to get in the wheelbarrow.  He didn’t believe the angel, and for his lack of faith he was unable to speak until after his son, John the Baptist, was born.

But to return to the important person in our text, we find Elizabeth, who like Sarai believed she was barren, but God had other ideas.  Do you believe in miracles?  Yes, we know the Bible contains several miracle birth stories, including the birth of Jesus himself.  How do we explain these stories?  How is. It possible for a virgin to conceive or for a woman in her old age to give birth?  Does your health care here at Wesley Glen include maternity care?  

For starters let’s suspend our disbelief enough to consider that these are theological stories, not biological ones.  These miracle births are one way of saying that with God all things are possible.  What if I told you that someone your age or mine could travel into space?  And I’m not talking about billionaires pretending to be astronauts.   I’m talking about John Glenn who made his second trip to space at age 77.

Or a woman could become a world famous painter at 76?   Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses did just that.  Why?  She said, “I am too young to sit on the porch, and too old to work on the farm.”  She painted over 600 famous canvases and worked until she was over 100 years old.  Albert Schweitzer ministered to the sick in Africa until he was 89.  Johann von Goethe completed his masterpiece “Faust” when he was 81. 

Now we can say yes, but those folks didn’t have to deal with a global pandemic.  Or we can make other excuses about why we can’t do x, y, or z.  Believe me, I have a long litany of things I no longer can do, and it is oh so easy to get sucked into a quagmire of depression about the negative aspects of the aging process.  I throw plenty of pity parties for myself, and do you know how much good they do me or anyone else?  Not one darn bit.  

Does this story about the parents of John the Baptist mean that we need to expect a baby boom here at Wesley Glen?  I don’t think so, but it does mean that we need to open our hearts to whatever it is that God is calling each of us to do in this stage of our lives.  None of us expected old age to come quite so soon, did we?  But every one of us is younger today than we ever will be again.  What if we shift our focus from the past and all those things we miss that we can no longer do toward a future that God is laying out before us to claim joyfully.  I don’t know what hidden talents each of you possess, but God knows and is inviting you to embrace those and put them to work for the betterment of your life and those of your neighbors.

-Preached at Vespers service, Wesley Glenn Retirement Center, Columbus, OH 12/19/21

Second Sunday in Advent Prayer: Surprise Us, Lord!

Gracious God, as we go through the season of advent hearing the familiar stories, singing the beloved carols, there’s something very comforting about the traditions and the familiarity of the whole Christmas season. We feel cozy and at home with it all, and that’s good—up to a point.

But please pull a few surprises on us like you did with Elizabeth and Zechariah. Don’t let us get so much into auto pilot that our traditions become routine and lose their power. That first Christmas was anything but routine. Old women and virgins conceived, expectant parents were forced by foreign rulers to travel miles for a census only to be told they had to sleep in a barn.

But you had other plans, O God, and those oppressive rulers got upstaged by divine mischief and incarnation. Caesar and Herod took a back seat to a helpless baby in a manger!
What surprises do you have instore for our troubled and broken world this year, Lord? What unexpected and unheralded messengers of peace are you going to reveal to us in 2017. In these dark and cold shortest days of the year where will your light shine to show us your way of truth and justice? What healing miracles have you prepared for us? What acts of kindness and mercy is your Holy Spirit going to stir up in us to perform for those who least expect it.

Amid the clang and clamor of a world that has lost its way, dazzle us with a star that will lead us to Christ. Empower us like Elizabeth to believe the impossible so we can help produce for our time voices that cry in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord – Not back then but here and now. Whisper again in our ears the assurance that nothing in all creation can separate us from your amazing love in Jesus Christ. In his holy name we witness to your power as we join our voices in his prayer.