"And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit of power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:17
I remember the story a friend of mine told me years ago. He said that when he was young and learning to ride a bike, his father had insisted he ride right on their small block and not go anywhere else in the neighborhood. Feeling adventurous and momentarily out from underneath his parents eyes, he took off into a neighboring street, only to crash into a metal mailbox stand. A piece of the metal pierced his cheek, and he pushed his bike home crying. His parents cleaned him up and took him to the doctor without any angry words or punishment. Much later in life the father confessed to his son that he didn't like it when his son smiled because that scar showed and he remembered that terrible day when he couldn't keep his child safe. Why do parents turn from children? Possibly from their own shame or frustration and inadequacy - sometimes we aren't able to keep our young safe, especially from the harsh criticism of peers, the daily struggle to grow up and the seduction of material wealth. Maybe because we see too much of ourselves in our children, or perhaps, we have broken their trust in some way. Whatever happens to make us turn away, it is God's desire that parents turn back to their children. It is the road that opens the way of God. It is a fearsome thought to think that we parents could welcome or inhibit the presence of God.
The Gospel story today from Luke tells of Zechariah's encounter with the angel Gabriel. He foretells the birth of John (the Baptist) and shocks Zechariah by telling him that his wife Elizabeth will become pregnant in her later years. Zechariah answers in disbelief and shock, as would any of us, and consequently he is silenced until his son is born. Zechariah is a faithful and honest man living with his own frustration and inadequacy and God blesses him despite his humanity and momentary, understandable lack of faith. And so it with us. God promises to be with us, despite our momentary lapses, our weakness, humanity and our failure, and our inability to protect our young at all times. God loves us in our brokenness as well as our faithfulness. All that God requires of us is to turn our hearts back to the love in our lives, to our families and children, to embrace the wisdom of forgiveness and so to make a road for the coming of the Christ child, the incarnation, the birth of God in our midst - Emmanuel, God with us.
This time of year, with the anxiety that the holidays and family gatherings bring, I am reminded that it is also time to turn my heart again towards my children. Not by showering them with material goods, but by giving the best gift, which is my complete and utter support of them as unique human beings. For who they are right now, in this very season. God's simple requirement of me is for me to turn my heart to the young, to repent of the words and behavior that keeps me from the wisdom of love, and so to make a place for God in my life today. I pray that I can turn my heart again to the gifts of love in my life, and that I can celebrate them completely in this season. May we all have the courage this day to make straight the path of the living God by turning again to the relationships that we have been blessed with by God. Although we may have seasons of turning away, may this be the season where we return to love and usher in the presence of the God of love.