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Song of Zechariah

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:57-80

December 6, 2015

Year C

The Song of Zechariah is a lovely text. It’s poetic and there is no violence. After all, the symbol for this second Sunday in Advent is peace. In the beginning of this morning’s story there is the naming of the child. Do you know how you got your name?

Most of us know the story regarding our name and so we should as our names are very important. The commentaries say that the neighbours would not have been naming this child. It is clear, though, that the neighbours were there, present for the circumcision and for the naming. When they hear the name they say,
“But none of your relatives have that name.” Then Zechariah finds his voice, Zechariah has not spoken since he found out that Elizabeth was pregnant. No one seems to know why this happened, but I bet Elizabeth knows and she never told what happened.

Now that Zechariah can speak, he creates this lovely piece called, “
The Song of Zechariah.” The song is prophetic. It promises redemption for the people, it speaks of a longing for wholeness and peace. The people are hopeful and they have confidence that life will be better. The song also looks forward to Mary’s child yet to be born. Theologically, this song is about faithfulness and goodness. These people believe that God will be faithful to them. They want to participate in the covenant created with Abraham, and this covenant speaks of goodness.

One of the key messages in this passage is that the people want to be in relationship with Yahweh and they don’t want to live in fear. They have become a fearful people. War has dominated their lives, the Roman-Jewish war of 66-70 CE has just happened and far from being saved from their enemies, the people were badly beaten. The temple was destroyed and Jerusalem sacked. They are governed by the powerful; they are being taxed to death and they are living in poverty. Still Zechariah’s song is sung, reminding people of the possibility of God’s promises through the prophets.

I believe that they remember their past. They remember through story and myth, or we embody what has happened before. The Minoan’s lived about 2,000 years before Jesus was born and before Luke wrote this passage. When I was on pilgrimage in Crete, we explored the ancient Minoan sites and I want to share some of that experience with you this morning. I want to share this because I believe it relates to the text and to our lives.

In Greece on the island of Crete we explored the ancient Minoan sites.
Minoans existed for hundreds of years prior to 1500 BCE. There is not enough surviving text, or writing to prove what the Minoan people believed, but what was found and what we do understand, points to a peaceful, egalitarian society.

Archaeologists have uncovered large temples, sacred sites, where the Minoan’s gathered to worship and on the alters were the figures that archeologists believed to be goddess figures and it is believed that she was the one with the power to transform the society/culture/life. It does appear though that men were considered equal and that power was shared. Women however, had the power to transform. They gave birth; they planted seeds in the dark earth and from the light intertwined with the dark came growth. They created pottery because they needed storage. The pottery is decorated with symbols from nature; nature is copied on to the pots. The Earth is the focus of goddess worship. All of life was valued. Boy babies and girl babies shared equal place in the society. Today, academics say that the reason the goddess was powerful was because she was a fertility goddess and she had the power to create life.

However, our leader on the pilgrimage,
Carol P. Christ, once upon a time a tenured professor at Yale, said she was much more than that. Ms. Christ says that goddess worship sustained the egalitarian system that was in place. There has never been any discovery of swords, chariots or weapons of any sort. So we can assume there was no war. (Remember that is an assumption, because none of the writing has been deciphered). The darkness was just as important as light. Babies grew in the dark, seeds grew in the dark earth and everything was in time transformed by the light. What is important to remember is that darkness and light were equally important. In the west, light has become more important than the dark and that has created all sorts of difficulties for us.

Arthur Evans, from England was the head of the dig that uncovered the palace at Knossos. It was built as early as 1900 BCE. At Knossos the Minoans farmed, made wine, crafted pottery, they were weavers, they were artisans and they shared everything with one another. In the museum there are surgical tools that were used for human surgery. It is believed in some circles that the Minoan civilisation was the most advanced people on earth. We know that they traded with Egypt as there are many Minoan pieces of art there.

One of the things that Carol Christ said and I think it is important, is that you can’t create art in the same way, if you are at war. She believes that is why there is so much art from that period, because there was peace.

There isn’t much out there to prove that the goddess and her way of life ever existed. There are just old palaces and broken pieces of figurines, wine presses, frescoes, weaving and pottery and a multitude of ruins. But there is no language from that time that can be deciphered and there has to be the written word before academics will entertain what might be the truth. The Minoan civilisation disappeared completely. Perhaps by an earthquake, or some other natural disaster.

The Minoan civilisation leads us down a very long path; it’s a long story that brings us to Luke’s story and to our own story.

In Luke’s story the people are gathered to name the baby. We know from the song of Zechariah that they remember a better time, a time when peace was a possibility; they embody the story from 2,000 years earlier, when people lived in harmony with one another. I think it is about longing, we long to be at peace and to live in harmony with one another. We long to be in relationship that empowers, is life giving and that longing, grows out of life lived 4,000 years ago.

By this period when Luke is writing, the people have a fairly new god in their midst, Yahweh. He is male and he is all-powerful and when he came to power, the Hebrew goddess
Ashtoreth was his consort. At that time Ashtoreth lost her power, but these people remember and they long for there to be something in place, that they might not understand fully, or they might not exactly be able to articulate, but they know life can be different than it is. They will also know that there is a high price to pay if they step away from the status quo, which is worship of one powerful deity, Yahweh. This is a shift from the worship of many gods to the worship of one all powerful God.

  • Where are we at in the midst of all of this today?
  • Who is God for us today?
  • How do we understand God?
  • Is this different for us now then what it was in Luke’s Gospel?

I suspect most of us don’t want to experience war. However, we are at war with ISIL. France has declared war with them and for months now the US, Britain, Canada and other countries have been bombing ISIL strongholds. So we, are part of that. What our role in that war is going to look like under the new government, we are not clear on yet. But, I suspect most of us tire of seeing images of war on TV, images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Israel, Palestine and the list goes on. Often we don’t want to hear about the dead in the Middle East. It is difficult enough to deal with our own suffering. We don’t often say that out loud. But, I believe we grieve and we long for a different world. From our past we embody a peaceful world.

How do we live out Zechariah’s song now?

Zechariah longs for the past and I believe some longing is a good thing, but we can’t be stuck in the past, we must move ahead. In the midst of both, in the midst of the past, the present, and the future, how might we embody that goodness from our past and transform our world today?

After my time on Crete, I lived on the island of Aegina in Greece for three months. Often people said to me, “Canada is a good place.” It was always both a statement and a question. I always replied, “Yes, it is a good place.” Because, I felt so out of place in Greece, I almost wept every time I said it. But I continue to search for the answer. What is good? If we are so good, how do we live that out? How do I transform both myself and the world for the sake of goodness?

I wonder what will be said about our civilisation 4,000 years from now.
What will they say about us? What will the history books say about Canadians?

Will they say we were all about transformation, that we produced good food, that we were artists, weavers, potters, painters, carvers and writers?

I hope so. I want us to have good press in 4,000 years, or even next year. Goodness is a strange thing. It’s Advent and we are invited to wait. It is the time for waiting. It is the time to be patient. When it is over – when we no longer wait, then what? Maybe we don’t recognise the birth of the Christ in our midst. Malachi, in the Old Testament says that goodness will be like fire and water, it is hot and clean and Christians have long believed that this is referring to Jesus and to John the one born and named in today’s story. Maybe we can’t bear goodness, perhaps it is so old we know longer understand or recognise it. But if we don’t, can we recall or remember what goodness was like long ago, four thousand years ago?

Margaret is going to play the Song of Zachariah and I invite you to reflect on transformation. How do we live out transformation in our lives? How is that connected to goodness handed down to us from the ancient Minoan’s, a few thousand years ago?

Sharon Ferguson-Hood