On Angel Watch:Beauty and the Priest

Ever just the same, Ever a surprise

Ever as before, Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise, Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song, Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change, Learning you were wrong.

Certain as the sun, Rising in the East…
Tale as old as time, Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the… Priest…., Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the … Priest.

Apologies to Disney and writer Alan Menkin. ‘Just the smallest little tweak. ‘A syllable will do. Suddenly a fairytale song signals the beginning of a story true and strong. The coming of Christ the King! The startling, jarring, silencing, setting-us-free story of the One Who’s Born to Save. Whenever Advent, the Christ-watch Season, starts before December, if only by a day or two, it always snaps our heads around. The Thanksgiving dishes are barely dry! The Pilgrims have hardly had their day. Like that (SNAP), it’s time to get ready for Christmas.  As Luke would have it, it all begins with… a beauty… and a priest. Gorgeous Gabriel. And Keep-Yer-Eye-On Zechariah. Oh, Gabriel! “One who stands in the Presence of God.” That’s him. In our Bibles, twice the messenger of God to Daniel. ‘The one with word for Zechariah, Mary and Joseph: Salvation’s on its way. Gabriel, by the (Aramaic Targum) Bible-tongue of Jesus’ day, leader of Joseph to his brothers. ‘Present at the Moses’ funeral; slayer of ancient enemies of Israel (Sennacherib). Jesus himself would know the Gabriel tradition; (Enoch) 1 of the 4 Presences that look down from heaven, seated at God’s left hand… none nearer (except Christ) to the lips and heart of God! Just the faintest wisps of Holy Glory on the hem of his robe, enough to melt even-holy men (and women) and terrify trouble-makers forever!

Then there’s Zechariah. Faithful, up in years, temple priest. Husband, child-hopeless, headstrong. In the temple taking his turn, tending incense, meant to please the very nostrils of Heaven. And the talk between these two tells us much of where to watch, what to think and how to do, coming to Christmas. Good we should eavesdrop… on Beauty and the Priest.

Five lessons. One for each weekday, with time for rest and praise.

Lesson 1. Lookin’ for salvation, be where holy’s known to hang out!

That was old Zechariah. He was a temple priest because he was born to it. Literally, it was in his genes! (Go Levites; go Levites!) We can relate. Some of us feel almost born in church. Parents schooled us in faith on their laps. But there’s more to faith than just what we’re given. Zechariah was so heart-into-it as to be totally absorbed with tending the sacrifice, just outside the Holy of Holies. (The exact Temple place where God was thought to live.) At first he barely saw Gabriel! When he did he was taken aback. Still, he was at least there, and open to the holy in his life. This is where getting ready for the coming Christ begins, even today. Where will you go this Advent where the holy is known to hang out? Here, we pray! Where else? Take time every week coming to Christmas to get to where you experience the Presence! For some it’s Bible in hand. For others it’s listening to the music of the season. Not the “Jingle Bell” stuff and “The Christmas Shoes”. And old Bing and his white dreams. No, in the carols, the hymns, the looking-for-Jesus lyrics! For still others, it’s on (serious) film; it’s a visit to a friend in need. Wherever. And do pay attention to how often you are where the Holy (for you) is not! Careful! This is hard. Almost certainly, not at the mall, or the online check-out. Not at the Christmas party with too much food, too much drink, and too much me! Not in the memories and losses that linger as lullabies of loneliness. Whereas for some, a holy Advent means time apart, for others it means you will really need to be with others. You decide. But do decide. Be where the Holy comes, and avoid wherever there is “no room”.

Lesson two. Expect the unexpected from God. Zechariah couldn’t believe God would send a son, just for him and Elizabeth. They were way old for that! Christmas brings word of God’s own son… for us all. Can you believe that? Do you? Will you? Old Zech. almost dares Gabriel with a question. “How will I know?!” This beauty of a messenger answers, in effect,  “Look who’s tellin’ you!”  What magnifies the loveliness of Gabriel: closeness to God. As near as Christ, to just the other side. To Gabriel God whispers and directs. He’s charged with being God’s personal announcer, Discloser of Deliverance On Its Way! The argument to Zechariah is: listen who’s talkin’. That’s how you know! ‘Know what God’s doin’. ‘Know how God’s breaking in on your world and mine. Dear friends, as you and I get ready for Christmas, to whom, for whom will we be listening? Will we try to draw closer to those we know who listen to and hear God’s voice? … Who are those folks for you? DO THINK ABOUT IT. A beloved Sunday School teacher? A family member? A friend? A trusted author? Who? Or will you listen to the ad that says, “I’ve got your Christmas on sale.” Or the TV/ on line pundits who can tell you where the world’s a goin’. And it’s not good. How will you know God’s promises are coming! Maybe it depends on who you’re listening to!

Lesson three. Pray with your head up, not down! I. e., keep watch for GOD’S schedule. It will not be your own! Betty and Zech. quit prayin’ baby prayers. Their time had passed, they knew. Only, God has God’s own timing. We can only wonder and watch what it is for me and you. And God has holy power! ‘To imagine what we can’t foresee. And instigate what we wouldn’t dare! If God can generate John the Baptist, Christ’s own herald angel from a stirrer of stink-pretty in the Temple, can you imagine what God can do through you, through us? This Advent, keep watch. Somethin’s comin’ with Christ!

Lesson four. Considering what God has certified, pray for the faith to try what you haven’t tried. Zech. has reached the place where he is ready to shut down. “I am an old man,” he protests. But Gabriel reassures, “I was sent [by God] to speak to you, to bring you this good news.” This is about more than schedule. It’s about calling, purpose, trust. This Advent, venture out. Search for your 4th or 5th gear, no matter the number of your year. Zech. was a senior. The Magi coulda carried A(rabian) ARP Cards. O, get stirred up. BUT:

Lesson five. Shhh! Be still. Get quiet some. Hush before you rush. We assume Zechariah’s muting all punishment for doubt. It’s more. And made for us, too. It’s the personal space necessary to reflection. It’s the forced timeout that renews, redeems, re-discovers what God can do to make heaven on earth; and fit us for a mansion in the sky.…A lot to learn! This Advent! Ever just the same, Ever a surprise Ever as before, Ever just as sure. Tale as old as time, Song as old as rhyme Beauty and the… Priest!

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