19 November 2017

posted 17 Nov 2017, 22:09 by C S Paul

19 November 2017

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to Zachariah (Parents' day)

This Sunday is commemorated as the day when John the Baptist's birth was announced to Zachariah by Angel Gabriel.

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

Doubting Believers

by Rev. Fr. M. D. Varghese Konniyoor

Gospel Reading: St. Luke.1.1-25

The Gospel readings on the Sundays leading up to Christmas help to prepare the background and context of Christmas. The birth of St. John, the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ is also the preparatory event for the birth of our Lord. God had selected a dedicated priestly couple to give birth and to nurture that child. However, the doubtfulness of that priest, the punishment for that doubt and the faith that was strengthened through that punishment, form the theme of this week's Gospel reading.

I would like to present a few thoughts from this passage to engage our attention.

1. Mutual support and care:

The lack of support in times of need is one of the greatest shortcomings in today's world. It is said about Elizabeth and Zechariah – "They both lived good lives in God's sight and obeyed fully all the Lords laws and commandments". Elizabeth was barren. Yet in Zechariah, we see a husband who did not abandon his wife because of her shortcomings. On the other hand, in Elizabeth we see a woman who was the wife of a priest but did not blame God or her husband's services to God for her shortcomings. Their mutual support and care is very evident here.

The lack of a support system is evident in families and individuals these days. In the past, both families and individuals had the support of parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, the church and their communities. The increasing number of suicides these days can be attributed to the lack of this support system. When a wife, husband, children, teachers and the community are able to come together and provide mutual support to understand each other's problems, the individual is able to overcome problems faced in life. Each of us should be able to become a unit of this support system.

2. The unbelief of a believer:

Here we see a man who should have been firm in his faith and lead people towards this faith had momentarily given priority to his logical thinking. He momentarily forgot about the powerful miracles in his history that gave elderly Abraham and Sarah a son and also produced water from a rock. He was not supposed to do that.

Gabriel (man of God) was not able to bear this unbelief. The unbelief of a believer is not acceptable in the eyes of God.

In today's world it may be fairly accurate to say that there are more religious atheists than ever before. The shifting of churches to shopping centers is an indication of the Christian's hollowness. This indicates a priority for the temple of materialism rather than the temple of God. Which of these is our centre of worship? In some critical stages of our lives, God extends his helping hand. Does the thought cross our mind about whether we should take his hand? Each believer should have in his or her life, the ability to `taste and see that the Lord is good'.

3. Unity in prayer:

Today's lifestyle is one that promotes individualistic thinking and personal space. This type of thinking is visible in all aspects of life like social, economic, political, cultural etc. This has now even affected families. Today we can even see a situation where a son may sit upstairs and email his mother to bring his meals up. Even is spiritual life, instead of family prayers, there is a tendency to move towards individual prayers or even a prayer-less life due to lack of time.

Zechariah, the priest, and the congregation are praying to God in unison. "According to the custom followed by the priest, he was chosen by lot to burn incense on the altar. So he went into the temple of the lord while the crowd of people outside prayed during the hour when the incense was burned" (St. Luke 1:11).

The fruits of Zechariah's and the community's prayer are shared by both parties. A childless couple was blessed with a baby (among all humans born from a woman, there was no one greater than him - Luke 7:28). The community got a prophet of justice.

Just like individual prayers are necessary, so too are community prayers necessary. A community that joins in prayer with the priest, is what the world needs today. Do we pray for those priests and high-priests that offer our sacrifices before God? Believers need to pray that their priests be given strength and guidance to overcome the many stresses and anxieties that fill their life. When a priest prays for the community and the community prays for the priest, the fruits of 'unity of prayer' can be experienced by all.

From this Gospel reading, may God our Father fill us with strong faith, mutual love and a mentality of prayer for each other.