Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding our voice

St. Luke 1: 5-25
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

The problem for many of us is that we are perennially unhappy. The unhappiness is due to several factors which could be related to aspirations, needs, and wants that lie unfulfilled. The stress and the hard work takes a toll on our bodies and saps out every bit of energy from us. The only place of relaxation and de-stressing is the church and one day a week becomes an essential ritual in the lives of all.

The service, bible readings and sermon all help us to get back on track in our lives. There may be grief, personal problems, work related pressures, family issues which pose serious questions in our mind. The church gives us answers to some of our questions and makes us relax. We get a feeling that God is with us and when God is with us, who can be against us? The element of faith comes to the maximum during service. But what if someone truly tested our faith? Zechariah was a priest and he was serving the Lord’s altar. A priest is fully aware of faith and trust in God. But when the angel sees him and tells him the good news that is going to happen in their family, he does not believe it because he feels his wife is too old to conceive. The angel then tells him that Zechariah will not speak till what he has informed him will happen. Zechariah loses his voice because for a moment he can’t comprehend God’s voice which came through the angel.

Many of us have lost our voices because we are not prepared to comprehend what God can do in our lives. Our faith ceases the minute we leave church almost to suggest that it will be better not to leave at all. We live two lives, one in church and one at home. Others may have multiple lives. In the process we lose the voice that God has given us. Zechariah got an opportunity to comprehend God’s voice because he became mute and had time to think. This thought process comes out later when he writes and gives his son’s name as John.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are seen as ideal parents. Parents in church should be mindful to listen to the voice of God in church and replicate that voice wherever they go. There need not be multiple lives and multiple behaviours, where parents say one thing in church and another at home. If that happens, the children will grow up being psychologically confused and will have personality disorders when they grow up. Finding one’s voice (which is God given) and proudly expressing it everywhere is what we all need to strive for.

Children on the other hand will feel that they can take advantage of their parents because their parents have flaws. Accordingly children will start disrespecting their parents and will pay scant attention to them. But have you heard of children divorcing their parents or parents divorcing their children? Divorce rates are alarmingly high in Kerala but they are legal. There is no legal standing for annulling the relationship between parents and children and between siblings. This is life long and this is God given. It is a bond which cannot be broken.

Finding one’s voice, finding one’s parents voice (meaning knowing what they have done for us) and finding one’s children's/s voice (meaning what they are doing in their lives) is an important aspect of our spirituality and our lives. Priest Zechariah lost his voice but it was to prepare for finding it. We should also be prayerfully silent, seeking God’s plan for justice, peace and love and then use our voice to accomplish it. Amen.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached at the St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore.)
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