"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 in to the way of peace."
In popular culture, Christmas is all about joy, lights, presents, and stuff. We celebrate by buying gifts: televisions, video games, guitars, clothes, jewelry, food, and the like. Christmas, like most holidays in our culture, has become commercial and materialistic.
I wonder how Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and the one who spoke today's scripture passage, would react to this emphasis on material possessions? If we read the Luke narrative of Christmas, we're confronted with the fact that Jesus' coming was a radical upheaval in the way things were.
It was salvation from enemies. It was hope for those in darkness. It was light to those who sit in the shadow of darkness. It was an overturn of present power structures; structures that ensure that injustice reigns, and that poverty remains, so that we can then live in true, harmonious peace.
Jesus' coming, and John the Baptist's leading the way, announced hope and peace to those at the bottom. Those who struggled to get by. Those who suffered daily under the political structures of the day. Those who were abused and used by the powers of the day for profit and for labor. It was a promise of a reorganization of society where people mattered more than power (see Mary's Magnificat just a few verses earlier).
I wonder what Christmas would look like if we followed suit. What would it mean to celebrate a Christmas where our focus wasn't on getting, or even giving, the best material gifts, but instead our focus was on liberating those who struggle daily to survive? What if we focused more on solidarity with the poor and the oppressed? What if we, like John before us, announced Jesus' coming as light in the darkness to those who sit in the shadow of death?
After all, let's remember that the first Christmas gift that we remember Saint Nicholas for was when he tossed three bags of the church's gold through a family's window so that they could pay the ransom to liberate their daughters from slavery.
-Rev. Dr. Blake Hart