This sermon followed a Scripture drama based on Luke 1: 5-25, 39-80; 3:1-6.
I wonder what was your favorite part of this story?
I wonder what was most important in this story?
I wonder if you had a favorite character? …
I want to talk a little bit about the neighbors.
The Nosy Neighbors are a kind of comedic archetype or trope.
Our household is most familiar with Fred and Ethel Mertz of I Love Lucy fame, but there are lots of examples in media and fiction. In our Scripture drama today, we expanded the role of the Nosy Neighbors, but they’re really there in the text of Luke’s Gospel.
They’re implied in Elizabeth’s long silence about her pregnancy. She doesn’t want to be the subject of gossip or speculation – or to know people are talking about her if something goes wrong.
And the Nosy Neighbors are right there on the spot when it’s time to name the baby. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s neighbors and relatives are there to celebrate, at the special party on the eighth day after his birth, the time to circumcise him and name him. And they are all ready to NAME THAT BABY – Zechariah, after his father, of course.
And they’re scandalized when Elizabeth – and then Zechariah – have other ideas!
Then, after Zechariah sings his prophetic prayer over his baby son, the neighbors have SO MUCH to talk about. That’s all right there in Luke’s text!
When some of the actors and I read over the story together, a couple of weeks ago, we talked a little about those neighbors and what they represent.
The Nosy Neighbors have expectations about how people should act. About what’s NORMAL and RESPECTABLE.
It’s not NORMAL for Elizabeth to be pregnant – at her age!
It’s not RESPECTABLE for these people to give their baby a name that nobody in their family has ever had!
It’s not NORMAL or RESPECTABLE for somebody to expect their son to grow up to be a prophet of the Most High God, and prepare the way for God’s Messiah.
I mean, everybody thinks their kid is special, but seriously…
But all these things – these are God at work in the world. God acts in human lives in ways that scandalize the neighbors.
Our drama today includes most of the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We skipped the part where Gabriel appears to Mary and asks her to be the mother of Jesus, who is God among us, because we get that story every Advent; we’ll have it in a couple of weeks. And then after that we’ll have Luke’s story about the birth of Jesus – which is the Christmas Gospel you know, if you know a Christmas Gospel: in the time of Caesar Augustus, the manger, the shepherds and the angels, all that.
The first Sunday in Advent is the church’s New Year’s Day, so here on the second Sunday we’re still at the very beginning of a new church year. And Luke is our Gospel for this year – the version of the story of Jesus that we’ll mostly hear and dwell with in the months ahead.
And what we see in today’s story, this theme of holiness unfolding in people’s lives in ways that do not fit normality or respectability – it’s true across all the Gospels, but it’s something that was particularly important for Luke.
He tells Jesus’ story in a way that emphasizes that aspect of his life and his teaching.
So that’s something to look out for in our year of Luke! Where does God show up, outside the normal and respectable?