“A mere trifle consoles us because a mere trifle distresses us.”* Pascal couldn’t say it any clearer. Black Friday fights, of which each passing year spawns a fresh crop of youtube hits, remind me of how often we can manufacture crisis. Not getting the best buy on that flat screen goes from a small disappointment, to requiring the intervention of police. Not getting to the bargain bin for the latest and greatest shiny thing turns from losing a consumer race of wallet and feet, to pepper spraying the competition. There are times during advent and throughout the year, that all of us see crisis overwhelm people’s life with fear – and some of it is as manufactured as the gifts we give.
Three Afghanistan vets committing suicide in a week. A military that even before its Afghanistan deployment began, admitted having fifteen percent less mental health providers than it required to meet its own standards? A government that’s closing DVA offices? That’s a crisis. That’s overwhelming.
A seventeen percent rate of youth poverty in Nova Scotia that was widely published in the news last week? That’s a crisis. That’s overwhelming.
Being told you have cancer, than that the diagnosis was wrong, then the next day you’re told oops, we did it again…you really do have cancer – that’s a crisis. That’s overwhelming.
Not getting the TV we wanted? Probably not.
Not getting the decorations we wanted put up or taken down? Probably not.
Not getting through the line up fast enough so that you’ll be late for the next engagement? Most assuredly not. That’s just Christmas!
It’s amazing to watch how we can work ourselves up in a lather of fear, anxiety and distress over what is truly a mere trifle. How is it that we loose perspective so easily in an instant, that in hindsight, we look back and wonder – how did that happen?
Last week, we took up Mary’s song. After pondering Gabriel’s greeting in her heart, she was overwhelmed with hope for the future of all God’s people. Her soul sang the words we have shared through the ages, let alone centuries, of what we believe God has done and is doing in the life we share together in Christ.
But his week, Zachariah sings a different tune altogether (Click here for the reading). Gabriel visits this elderly priest in the sanctuary as he’s offering prayers – and lo and behold – his prayers are answered (the gospel can be so predictable sometimes…) But Zachariah is not overwhelmed by the kind of fear that scripture often holds closer to “awe” or “wonder” as say some well known shepherds that were tending their flocks by night. He’s scared out of his wits. He’s completely overwhelmed. And he should be – his prayer is answered.
What is Zachariah’s prayer exactly? Is it that he and Elizabeth would have children as theologians through the ages have been happy to point out? I doubt it. I’m no ancient authority on the matter, but let the record show, Luke is all too happy to inform the reader that Zachariah and Elizabeth are OLD…and Elizabeth is barren (you gotta wonder how Elizabeth is diagnosed for that but that’s a story for another time). They knew they couldn’t have children, that their lives already had one foot in this world and another in the grave. I hardly think poor ol’ Zach was praying to be up all night while Elizabeth nursed and he barely had an hour of sleep between his rotations for serving in the sanctuary!
I would wager Zachariah’s prayer has more to do with how Luke begins this story. That these are the days of King Herod. A puppet king. A king who lived any way but righteous or blameless before God as Luke