I guess most of us who go to church are familiar with the character of John the Baptist. He's the wild guy who lived out in the wilderness eating locusts and honey, started preaching shortly before Jesus came along, then baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. But what do you know about John's dad?
John's dad was from Hebron. Not Mount Hebron in Howard County, Maryland. Hebron in the hill country near Jerusalem. His name was Zechariah and he was married to a lady called Elizabeth. He was part of a rota of priests who went into the temple to offer an annual offering.
Zechariah was elderly and had no children. Elizabeth was not able to conceive a child. At least not until God intervened. According to the gospel of Luke, Zechariah's temple duties this particular year are a game-changer.
As he went about doing his priestly duty, Zechariah is startled by the presence of another person in the sanctuary. It turns out to be an angel who identifies himself as Gabriel. If that wasn't unbelievable enough, Gabriel informs Zechariah that his wife is about to have a baby. For Zechariah this is a 'Say, What?' moment. Your mind can play tricks in your old age. Seeing angels at his time of life, maybe that was understandable. But Elizabeth having a child... now hold on a minute!
The angel Gabriel is quite specific. He is to name the child John. The child is going to have the unique mission of proclaiming the birth of one who will be a Savior for all the world. Zechariah protests. You can't just walk out of situations like that and expect anybody to believe you.
The sign of the reality of the events is that his power of speech is temporarily taken away. Zechariah is not allowed to say another word until some nine months later his baby boy is born. Only then is he able to relate the tale of what happened.
That's not where the story ends. His wife Elizabeth is relative to a young mom called Mary, who not only experiences an unexpected pregnancy, but has a close encounter of the third kind with the angel who calls himself Gabriel. When Elizabeth and Mary eventually get together, the babies they are carrying in their wombs leap for joy.
There's a whole lot more to the Christmas story than we can ever squeeze into a Nativity play. Maybe that is why the church came up with the idea of having a whole season called Advent, to get us ready for celebrating the birth of Jesus.
So many twists and turns. Rather like our lives. It can be hard to explain how we end up where we are, doing the things we do. Family. Tragedy. Unexpected journeys and encounters. Partings and Homecomings. The ordinary and the extraordinary all mix together.
During this Advent season take some time to consider your own families amazing story. The season from Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a wonderful time for telling tales and rejoicing in family heritage. I mean, who knew? John's dad was from Hebron!
And for a musical Thanksgiving smile... it's all about that Baste.
Rev Adrian J Pratt B.D.