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Friday, June 24, 2016

To Say Less

Isaiah 40:6, "A voice says, 'Cry out.'  And I said, 'What shall I cry?'" (NIV)

Today is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, just in case you needed a quick reminder... or have never heard of such a day... like me.  I'm not 100% sure how we should celebrate this, but a few thoughts from the lectionary passages gave me a clue.

I think we might talk too much about all the wrong things.  If I start beating a dead horse, here, let me know, because I remember posting about similar topics in recent days.  I think we talk too much about what we don't know and, in turn, silence the people whose voices need to be heard.  I think we often mean well when we do this.  We think we are bringing attention to the problems in the world.  We think we are being a part of the solution.  And then we realize that we actually have no idea what the solution is.  We hear the voice saying, "Cry out!"  We cry out.  And then we realize we don't know which words to cry.  This is exceptionally difficult for someone who loves words.

I suppose Zechariah experienced this more profoundly than anyone.  An angel appears to him and foretells the birth of his son, John, but since Zechariah and Elizabeth are old, Zechariah just can't grasp it.  Quite verbally, he cannot believe, so the angel basically says, "Wrong words.  Now you can't talk until someone says the right name."  It's sort of like a childhood game of jinx gone terribly bad.  So when Zechariah has the opportunity to fix this error, some months of silence later, he is quick to do so.  Interestingly, when his mouth is opened again, it's as if he can't stop speaking!  Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gives us these beautiful words of truth:

Luke 1:68-79, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us - to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (NIV).

Well, that's powerful.  These are the kind of words I want.

Something else that was striking, today, were some of the words of David, from Psalm 85.  What stood out to me most is that the Psalm begins with David speaking, requesting things of God (and that's good and right and important), but then, about halfway through, it changes direction when David proclaims that he will listen:

"I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants - but let them not turn to folly.  Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.  Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.  The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.  Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps" (Psalm 85:8-13).

The words that follow the listening seem to be the ones that matter most.

I wonder how often we allow God to prepare us before we speak.  I wonder how often we are willing to remain quiet for longer than it feels comfortable in order to be certain that when we do speak we will say the right words.  And by "we," of course I mean "me".

John comes to prepare the way for the Lord.  Preparation matters.  Sometimes we are also used in the lives of others to prepare the way.    Once we have done so, there is another hard truth.  John knew it:

"He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30, NIV).

To speak less, to be less, these are not the things that people generally pursue.  But OK.  What shall I say?


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