Reflecting on Zechariah and Alfred Delp
Last week I was reflecting on here about the young Roman Catholic priest Alfred Delp, executed by the Nazis in 1945. His writings on advent, smuggled out of his prison cell in his washing, sing with hope in despair and light in darkness.
Was he fooling himself, though, talking about golden threads, coming harvests and new dawns as he shuffled, handcuffed, the three feet from one side of his cell to the other? For that matter, was Zechariah fooling himself when he opened his mouth to sing to his new born son after nine months of silence? After all, even if the boy would grow up to point the way to a long-awaited (and as yet unseen) messiah, Zechariah himself would never live to see the day.
Neither was fooling themselves, but Zechariah’s song (Luke 1 v. 68- 79) certainly gives some clues as to how this hope may be seen…
As I wrote last week, this is guerrilla theology where raiding parties are sent over the border from the present to plunder the future and bring back golden, shining orbs of hope.Of course Zechariah won’t live to see it all. Of course the birth of his little boy is one drop in a very big ocean.However, such is his confidence in the ability and willingness of God to do such things , that it sends his grammar into overdrive and he uses the “prophetic perfect”, talking about future things as if they have already happened.
v.68 “He has come to his people” – not yet he hasn’t
v.69 “He has raised up a horn” – so far the person who will be blowing through the horn can’t even speak!
v.71 &72 In all these things he will be fulfilling promises made so long ago that most have forgotten about them!
Advent is a time to remember that we ARE a people in waiting. Waiting is at the very heart of what advent is all about – like the child checking and rechecking their list;or waiting through what seems like the longest night until Christmas morning. This is a time to plunder God’s (unseen) future promises and use them to decorate the hearth of our faith. Like a man coming back from dark depth of the forest, tree over his shoulder to make the house bright for Christmas – so we strike out into future, grasp the promises that God has yet to fulfil, and set them like lanterns about our hearts. Alfred Delp:
Let us hike and journey onward, neither avoiding nor shunning the streets and terror of life. Something new has been born in us, and we do not want to tire of believing the star of the promises and acknowledging the singing angels’ Gloria.
The scent of change
we quite often get candles at Christmas, and quite often use them rest of year too! Just recently we have been burning some called “Christmas vanilla” , which are reputed to have a hint of Christmas about them. Smell can be so evocative. That is why the smell of fresh baked bread it put in show homes. That is why those seeking to bring a riot by hungry prisoners to en end started frying onions just beyond the barricades. That is why people buy ‘new car spray’ before selling their car, so that it ‘smells of newness’.
Zechariah sings his song as the priest of a muzzled religion in an occupied country where as yet there is no sign of the Messiah. However,it is infused with the scent of a different day not yet seen
v.72 There is to be mercy instead of shame and embarrassment
v.74 Despite the Roman soldiers at the gates – there is to be the shining prospect of rescue in the air.
v.76 At last there is to be a someone with a ramrod straight back who will stand up for God in the face of whatever happens (which was imprisonment and violent death in the case of Zechariah’s son).
v.77 There is to be forgiveness, the drawing out of the poison in the veins of human race.
v.78-79 Like a rising sun, transforming the landscape as it creeps over every roof and sends a shadow behind every tree these things will come.
Years ago, I spent one night in a cave hotel in Cappadocia, and rose time after time to see the dawn come up over that bizarre landscape. It was worth every moment of lost sleep to see the twinkling lights gradually extinguished as the sky turned from black, to inky blue, to pink and a hot air balloon drifted serenely into view. As the first rays of the sun transform every landscape or cityscape – so God will change things, and Zechariah can smell it in the air. Alfred Delp:
The promises of God stand above us, more valid than the stars and more effective than the sun.
The people of tomorrow
Alfred Delp was not kidding himself. Zechariah was not kidding himself. Years ago, the Christians living under Ceausescu’s brutal oppression, with churches burned and pastors tortured, were not kidding themselves either. Asked why they were so happy when life was so bad, they replied that ‘we are the people of tomorrow’
Advent is all about living like the people of tomorrow today.
We followed the sermon by listening to the O antiphon for December 21st – the day in the calendar where there are more hours of darkness then light. It sings about Christ’s coming as the ‘radiant dawn’ , which will rise like the sun on those sitting in the shadow of death. You can hear it by clicking on my dawn picture from Cappadocia below.