The first time the reality of me being a mother truly came to be was the night Elsa was born. Of course there is 9 months of becoming a mother. And everything in you and around you tells you that you will be a mom. But I found those 9 months to be anticipation, hoping, and if I’m honest…a lot of anxiety. And the reality that I am a mom didn’t quite hit me till the sound of her cry reached my ears.
In fact, Erik videoed her first moments being cleaned, swaddled, and held…and they are beautiful, holy moments. When we watch that video of her first minutes with us, we laugh that there is soft, gentle music playing over the scenes. At the time there was not soft, gentle music…there was a wailing baby. To be honest… Elsa’s cry hit everyone’s ears. The doctor’s noted that her lungs were very, very healthy!
At Christmastime when the Christmas carols come out and we sing “Away in the Manger” I love the verse
The cattle are lowing,
The poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus,
No crying He makes
Ha! Babies cry. All babies. Our Lord and Savior cried, because as our creeds of faith state, Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. And to be a baby just born means a crying baby.
Cries are a sign of life. Cries get our attention.
I have seen newly minted fathers and mothers alike coo at a baby who is crying–whether that baby is there’s or not.
Go into a store and eventually a little one will cry out, “Mom!” and 20 heads will turn.
Babies and children crying can stop the world and make it take notice. Sometimes they can even make cold hearts melt.
My heart breaks with the news of children being separated from their parents on our borders. I hear the child’s voice in the wilderness calling for her papa, and I hear as though my own child is crying for me. And if you are looking for scripture to guide you, I find myself recalling the words from Exodus 22 when God gives the people the 10 commandments and the law including these commands:
Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.
The cries of children make us stop and turn, but so does their silence.
Recall the teenager Emma Gonzalez from Parkland, Florida when speaking passionately at a rally in Washington, DC in March. She stunned the crowd and media alike when she filled the air with silence to mark the time friends and schoolmates lost their lives in a school shooting.
Silence and cries…both can stop us in our tracks.
Both can make us question what is going on.
Both can make us ponder if we have done something wrong.
Both silence and cries can direct us to turn and love our neighbor.
Our Gospel story we hear today (Luke 1:57-80) is filled with silence and cries. It’s one that you may not be used to hearing on a Sunday in June, but are more accustomed to hearing the birth story of John the Baptist somewhere around the time you may be singing “Away in the Manger.” Usually we hear about John’s birth and ministry a few weeks before celebrating the birth of our Savior. We lift up John as a prophet, a baptizer, and most importantly a herald for the Messiah.
And today marks 6 months to Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth. In our tradition, Mary finds out from the angel Gabriel that she is favored in the eyes of God and will be carrying God’s Son. The angel tells her to seek refuge with her older cousin, and when Mary goes for a visit she encounters a very pregnant Elizabeth. The Gospel writer Luke tells us that when Mary goes to greet Elizabeth, John does a little flip of joy in Elizabeth’s womb. The Holy Spirit was cookin’ even then!
But not all things were hunky dory for Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. In fact, their world could be described as a world of silence. Some months before it was Zechariah’s priestly duty to travel to Jerusalem to serve as priest in the temple. While burning incense in the holy place of the Lord, an angel appeared to him telling him the good news.
‘Congrats! You’ll have a bouncing, baby boy! Name him John (meaning God gives) and he’ll be great in the sight of the Lord! In fact, he’ll be the forerunner before the Lord…he’ll turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient will turn to the wisdom of the just.’
But Zechariah questioned this news.
Sure it was coming from the angel Gabriel, but didn’t that angel get the news that he was old and his wife was barren?
Didn’t the angel know of all the years they tried to have children while their brothers, sisters, cousins, and the whole town had all the babies they wanted? Hadn’t that angel known of their heartbreak because to not have a child was viewed as tragic at best, but some may have silently sniffed at them wondering what they had done wrong in the eyes of God?
Didn’t this angel know any thing about their story?
And this is when the angel gave Zechariah a bit of a time-out. You know those time-outs you may have received from a parent or teacher when you need time to think. And the time-out came in the form of silence. Zechariah was muted for 9 months.
Nine long months of silence.
Nine long months of silent gossip from family and neighbors.
‘Elizabeth was with child? How? Zechariah is so old…he’s so old he can’t talk anymore!’
Oh the silent whispers that must have roared through the community when news came out that the baby would not share the name of Zechariah. What a scandal…was this child not of old, mute Zechariah?
How hard it must have been to be faithful to God’s will in the silent stares of others’ judgment!
And then finally, finally the silence is broken with a cry. A baby’s cry answering the promise made by God through the words of his messenger.
And with the cries of a baby, Zechariah’s words came back to him.
What did he have to say after 9 long months a silence?
His words of silence were transfigured into songs of praise.
Zechariah’s own cries sang out,
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and redeem them.”
And then he points to his son–can’t you just hear John’s baby coos and cries for his mama and papa? He turns to his own, his beloved, and proclaims,
you…my child…will be called the prophet of the most High.
And Zechariah’s song became reality.
John grew up and became the voice that cried out in the wilderness.
Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight!
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to parents and kids. Zechariah’s legacy is that he followed the Lord and when it came time to speak he pointed out the Lord’s work in others. Highlighting God’s presence in their lives. And the great things God would do through them.
And John’s legacy could be the same. He faithfully followed God’s direction and pointed to the one who we call the Christ.
When would-be disciples insisted on following him, John pointed out Jesus crying out,
Look! There’s the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world!
When crowds were trying to decide who to follow–John or Jesus–it was John who insisted that Jesus become more important as he himself become less important. As he knew Jesus was certainly from heaven.
Yes, it is good for us to celebrate John’s birth this day, to give thanks for his ministry and his parent’s faith in God’s promises. Perhaps the legacy of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John alike can kindle in us direction, hope, and courage.
Perhaps when enduring painful silence we may find a voice that praises God or be a voice that cries for those stuck in their own wilderness.
Perhaps we may listen to Jesus when he cries, “All who have ears, listen!” so that we may hear and be moved.
What is the Lord saying to you this morning?
In your silent moments in what ways is the Lord directing you?
And like our fathers and mothers in the faith, how may you have the courage to hear, to act, and to serve?
In Jesus’ name,