On the Resound of One Voice
December 4, 2022
Isaiah 11: 1-3
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.
Luke 1: 13-15
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 3: 1-6
“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Today’s sermon is titled, On the Resound of One Voice.
I’ve spent most of this past week nursing a severe case of laryngitis and the cold that followed it. I was nearly silenced for a few days and I suppose it gave me time to think about the power of speech, how I use it, and how I sometimes mis-use it. One thing I learned in being without a voice is that the voice is a very potent force that I mostly take for granted. Last Sunday my voice barely made it through the service and there were days this past week when making phone calls was not an option. I had to wait to resolve an insurance issue because I could not advocate for myself; I had no voice. My vocal cords were inflamed and could not move, as they should, to produce sound.
I had no idea how small our vocal cords really are. They are each only an inch long, and they run perpendicular across the windpipe. I always imagined them longer, like guitar strings. Like guitar strings, our small vocal cords vibrate over 100 times each second to form the sounds we rely upon to communicate. It’s actually the small vocal cords that close when we swallow, to prevent food from going down the wrong way. This was all new information to me.
As you can hear, my lack of a voice was temporary, but it lasted long enough to give me a much deeper appreciation for my ability to speak and a deeper awareness of how much I depend upon using speech to advocate for myself and to advocate for the people and the causes I care about. One voice really can make a positive difference. One voice can cause a lot of trouble, too, if that voice is being used to spread lies or spread hate.
In our scripture readings this morning, we hear three distinct voices spanning nearly 1000 years of time. All three voices resound with a message of hope for all those who listen. All three voices are preparing the way for something wonderful to happen.
We heard first from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah walked the earth 800 years before Jesus. Isaiah was at odds with the king at the time and Isaiah is longing for a different kind of leader to arise, one who will put more faith in God and less faith in military might, one who will lead the people, by example, in ways of righteousness. Isaiah is dreaming of a descendant from King David, whose father was Jesse, when Isaiah says, “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse…the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge…” By calling forth such a leader, the prophet Isaiah is using his voice to call out the shortcomings of the present king, saying just enough to challenge, saying just enough to cause unrest but not so much as to be silenced forever. Isaiah is using his voice to bring about change in the political landscape and to bring hope to the people…hope for a better future.
In our second reading, from the Gospel of Luke, it is the voice of an angel, Gabriel, that brings a resounding message of hope. It is the voice of the angel Gabriel that is preparing the way for something wonderful to happen in the lives of the priest, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. They have given up hope of having an heir to continue his father’s service in the priesthood. When the angel announces that Elizabeth will soon conceive, even in her advanced age, Zechariah doubts what the angel is saying and he must have been a little sassy about it because the angel Gabriel takes away his power of speech until the baby is born, and named John. As soon as the baby is named, with the entire village standing witness, Zechariah’s speech is restored. Surely such news spread far and wide. I imagine even Zechariah’s niece, Mary, who lived some distance away, must have heard all about it. In a few short months, Mary would also give birth, and that birth, too, will be surrounded by miraculous and unexplainable circumstances.
The births of these baby boys were connected and so, too, were their lives. John grew to be more like a revivalist preacher than a village priest. He was an impassioned advocate who used his voice to challenge the people to change their ways. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word “repent” is often misunderstood. The Hebrew word would have been teshuva, meaning “to return.” And the Greek word, used in the original text of this story, was metanoia. Meta means change; noia is mind. John was calling for the people to return to God. John was calling for the people to invite change in their way of thinking. It was John’s voice that was preparing the way for Jesus and the intense teachings he would offer, teachings to love one’s enemies and to love and care for one another as if we were caring for God. John’s voice made a dramatic difference. By the time that Jesus entered public ministry, there with John on the bank of the river Jordan, John had baptized countless numbers of people who were welcoming change and living with hope for the future.
One voice can make a powerful difference, for better or for worse. For the first time since 1954, this past week we witnessed the guilty verdict of a man on trial for using his voice to incite violence against the government of the United States. One voice can make a powerful difference, for better or for worse. We can use our voice to pass along negativity, suspicion and criticism just as easily as we can pass along encouragement and hope. What we say matters. We create change with what we say; sometimes by saying nothing, we also allow for change.
I am sure we have all been part of conversations that took a turn when someone said something offensive. Perhaps it was something sexist, or racist, or homophobic. Perhaps it was something hurtful or derogatory about someone who was not present. In such moments, we have just a few seconds to change the course of the conversation. We have just a few seconds to somehow, to someway, break ranks and give voice to what we know to be right and true and kind. In those moments, we become the voice in the wilderness. In those moments we become the voice that can bring change and illumination. In those moments we become the voice of witness for all we learn from our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6).
The next time we find ourselves bearing witness to unkind words in a conversation, I hope we find our voice and the courage to offer a different perspective, or at least the courage to be curious about why the other person holds the opinions and beliefs they hold. We could say, “I didn’t know you felt that way. Can you tell me more about that?” or “I’m not sure how I feel about that” or “I am uncomfortable with that statement.” At such times we can feel like we are the one voice in the wilderness, but Friends, those are the moments when one voice can resound and bring an opening where kindness can take root and where light can make its way in.
In closing, I pray that we use our voices with care, to invite positive change, to prepare the way for goodness, for justice, for kindness, mercy, and love. So be it. Amen.
God of Love and Light, I thank you for filling so many of our needs. Help us to be grateful for the ways we are fulfilled and strengthen us to attend to the aspects of our lives that need healing and care. If there are those we need to forgive, please give us the words we need; if we are desiring forgiveness, empower us to ask and especially to receive. Give us the courage to use our voices to prepare the way for positive change because of what we say. May our words carry encouragement, edification, and illumination. Teach us, I pray, how to care for ourselves as individuals so that we are making healthy choices from a foundation of fullness. As communities, teach us to extend ourselves to those who we tend to avoid. As a nation, teach us that our greatness is most accurately measured by our kindness to the least among us, as Jesus Christ so humbly exemplified. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the book of Philippians, chapter one.
“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best.”