Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent 1.6 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Prophetic Joy

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: Elizabeth gives birth to a healthy baby boy, and Zechariah could not be more excited. He opens his mouth to congratulate his wife, but nothing comes out. He is still mute.

"Why?" he might inwardly scream. The angel had said, "And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

"The baby is here! Why can't I speak?" the priest may wonder.

My thoughts: Zechariah has had a challenging nine months. First, an angel appears and promises a son, but, because of Zechariah's doubt, takes away his voice. For months now Zechariah has been communicating solely by signs and writing. Zechariah can hardly wait for his son to be born. He wants to hold his baby in his arms and... he wants to speak to him!

So, the baby is born, but Zechariah cannot speak. I can imagine Zechariah standing by his resting wife and newborn, his hand clasped in Elizabeth's -- silently crying -- overwhelmed by joy and regret. Can God be trusted?

Zechariah, though confused, knows the answer. Yes, God can be trusted. It is he who was untrustworthy, but God is and always will be faithful.

Fast forward eight days. All the family and friends have come to rejoice with Zechariah and Elizabeth in the circumcision of the baby. The little boy must be given a name, and everyone wants to help with that. The crowd picks "Zechariah." Naming the boy after his father would be fitting -- to keep his name alive. There are no other children, the parents are elderly, and, indeed, Zechariah may not live much longer -- look how he is failing already. He cannot speak!

But Elizabeth will have nothing to do with it. She says, “No; he shall be called John.”

"John? But there is no one in the family by that name." They insist, "He must have a family name!" Ignoring Elizabeth now, they turn to the father and, using signs, ask him what the boy should be called. Surely, he -- poor man -- will see their side of things!

Zechariah, perhaps standing back in the corner as his baby is passed from one relative to another, motions for his writing tablet. He knows the baby's name. It was given to him by God. He writes "His name is John." in big bold letters. He shows it to the crowded room. Emotion overtakes him as he realizes that God is both merciful and great. Out of the abundance of his gratitude and obedience, he blesses God -- out loud. The message from God, spoken by the angel Gabriel, is fulfilled. Zechariah's tongue is loosed, and so is everyone else's; the story is spread all throughout the hill country of Judea! They ask in their hearts “What then will this child be?”

They account goes on to say:

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Zechariah understands the bigger picture. He is trusting God to move through the lives of his family in whatever way He chooses. It doesn't need to make sense --age, youth, marital status -- all of it is meaningless when it comes to God's ability to use us for His glory.

No matter what stage we are in our lives, if we make ourselves available to God, He can and will use us for His purposes. Zechariah has had months to contemplate the wondrous works of God. None of it made sense to his logical mind at first, but now, he is able to put his doubt away and understand it with his heart. He is able to trust God. Full of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah becomes God's mouthpiece to speak blessings over his son and prophesy about John's role in preparing others for the soon coming Messiah.

Zechariah was a righteous man before all of this happened, but now, his faith has been tried, grounded, and built up. He has the joy of a son and the purpose to help John become a faithful prophet of God. Zechariah's sacrifice and experience, his joy and his sorrow, his relationship with his wife Elizabeth and her cousin Mary... it has prepared him for this role. He and Elizabeth will prepare their son John to prepare the world for the advent of the Savior.

What a mighty God we serve!

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