Zechariah was one of the last of God’s Old Testament prophets. The period of the Judges had passed. So, too, had the period of the Monarchy. The 345 year-long Divided Kingdom had passed by, and both the North and the South had been sent into exile!
Seventy years had elapsed when God decided to raise up Zechariah (a faithful and talented prophet and priest) to perform His important work for His people as they returned from faraway places to repatriate their homeland! Incidentally, the name Zechariah was a popular name on account of its meaning: “God remembers.” And that could be a helpful sermon in its own right! God always remembers his people... even if we might temporarily forget Him! What does He remember? He remembers that we are dust! And he remembers our sins no more!
So what was Zechariah’s important work? His important work was to encourage God’s people in the rebuilding of the Temple! God’s people – weak on their own... and all-too-often prone to discouragement – always need encouragement! Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian Christian dissident, at the low point of his incarceration in the Gulag Archipelago, was profoundly “touched” (encouraged) when his friend saw just how “low” and hopeless he felt. They were forbidden to communicate, so he simply marked a small cross in the courtyard dirt with his foot, then quickly “erased” it. And Alexander was lifted; he was changed! This is what Zechariah did each and every day for those under his “cure” – encourage them! It was not just for them... but especially for the Almighty that he did this... Who always watched out for him. So Zechariah worked tirelessly for spiritual transformation in the returning exiles.
This brings to mind the vivid image of what America looked like one century ago when Europeans were streaming into America – not to get on welfare… not to get a free lunch... not to get access to free health care... not infiltrate and destroy the land – but to have an opportunity to work and to save… to be free and to forge a future in a Christian land guided by the light of God’s justice.
The peak year of immigration was 1906 when over 1-1/4 million Europeans found their way to the shores of America. And whom did they first meet when they landed? Christian tithe agencies! The Church still believed in tithing! And they were ready to help them find their way in settling America. Ready to help them with health issues, to help them with language difficulties, to help them to learn marketable skills, how to cook foods of the new land – and help them to find Jesus Christ! Just like Zechariah, of old, they worked to bring spiritual transformation to the new immigrants who continued to populate the land.
In the case of Zechariah, there were also very old men who had returned who had seen the glory of the old temple as boys! When they saw the new temple being built – and how modest and simple it was by comparison – they cried, we are told. It is a sad thing to see any person cry... but especially to see an old man cry! It speaks of profound sadness and discouragement... strength given way to feebleness. I have seen it more than once and I will never forget what I saw. Zechariah encouraged these weeping old men, as well!
In the lesson before us this morning, the Almighty stoops down to encourage Zechariah in the great task and burden he carried, for He shows him what great work all this would lead to in the future! Over 500-years distant he could see God revisiting the very Jerusalem he himself walked through every day -- in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He could see, we are told, the inhabitants of many cities coming there in search of Him. Yea, many people from strong nations – just like the Magi... including the Magi, of old -- would come to Him.
He goes so far as to say that there would come those out of all languages of the earth to find God in His Son, Jesus Christ! This is a remarkable and beautiful vision so wide in its scope that it reaches all the way to you and me this very day – in our pursuit of God through Christ here at St. Paul’s! Through the Blessed Sacrament... through three Bible readings each service... through our collective prayers...
And what is the verb he employed in speaking of this great spiritual transformation? In verses 21 and 22, He two times employed the Hebrew verb ba-cash’ – to “seek”... to “desire”… to “search for”…to “inquire”...
We are rapidly approaching the 170th anniversary of the discovery of gold at John Sutter’s sawmill northeast of Sacramento! When all of those three-quarters of a million pounds of gold flakes and nuggets were found, it was only because prospectors were seeking them – searching for them... desiring them...! Had they not sought them, they would never have been found! And so we, too, must seek if we would find!
David wrote in the 63rd psalm: Early will I seek thee… my soul thirsteth for thee… my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is… And that is what we are called to do, as well. That is what we are privileged to do as well! To seek the LORD! To thirst for Him!
In all of our other occupations of life, we must not forget this – to seek God. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that there will be those in the judgment at the end of time who will try to convince Him that they should be permitted into Heaven! They will call Him Lord... twice for emphasis – Lord, Lord… – and recall things they “did for Him!” But He will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me.”
Seeking the Lord is a lot different than giving intellectual assent! It is a lot different than sliding downhill with the world! Sixteen hundred years ago, dear old St. Augustine in his commentary regarding this word ba-cash’ (“seek”) used by the Prophet Zechariah, put it so well: “The whole life of a good Christian is a holy longing to make progress.”
This is, of course, the very thing the Magi, of old, did! See them contending with heat by day... cold by night... sand whipping them as they sought to “make progress” traversing the desert in the most important and monumental quest of their lifetimes! Seek and ye shall find, promised Jesus.
And the Scriptures remind us to seek Him while he may be found! Do we understand such desire... such a quest... such pursuit... such truthful seeking of Him in this manner? We all have room for improvement and growth! May we all “make progress” (to quote St. Augustine) as we move through Epiphany and this New Year!
This is yet another lesson from the Magi of old – Gentiles who had God’s favor in the day His Son entered the world He created! There are things worth seeking in life; and there are things worth letting go by in life! And we are wise if we perceive and know the difference!
Wise Men Still Seek Him!
World without end.