As Advent–the journey to Christmas, and ultimately Easter–began, I began a journey of my own. For sometime, I felt that God was leading me to concentrate my reading and study on the Gospel narrative. To go back to the basics of what Jesus said and did. Strip out the third party, and just stay on the story of Jesus.
Today's reading brought me to the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and foretelling the birth of John. I've read this story many times and have even written about it previously on this blog, but a couple of new things stood out to me in today's reading. We'll examine these things over the next three days.
Our text is from the Luke 1:5-25 (NIV) (emphases mine):
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of The Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He wil be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of The Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to The Lord their God. And he will go on before The Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
The first observation that I had was that it was Zechariah who had been praying for a son. What we don't know from this verse is whether or not Elizabeth was in on this prayer of her husband. Could Zechariah have been praying secretly for a son? Could he have been quietly praying in the other room while Elizabeth was cooking dinner?
This brings back memories of our own journey back to Jesus.
Jesus had brought Stephanie back to Himself in the fall of 2009. But, it was another 6 months or so before I answered the call to “cast our nets on the other side.” During that time, Stephanie would quietly and secretly pray in the other room, while I worked or studied or read. When she would hear me coming, her secret prayers would look at lot like laundry folding.
Yet, after months of faithful prayers, I answered Jesus' call to re-enter relationship with Him.
The text is silent on whether or not Zechariah and Elizabeth were in agreement on this whole “baby-in-our-old-age” thing, yet we do know that she hid out for five months and was grateful that her “disgrace” had been taken away.
The other thing that we don't know from the text is how long Zechariah (and Elizabeth?) had been praying for a son, yet it would be safe (culturally) to assume that it had been for a long time. Luke makes it a point to tell us that they are old. It is likely a safe assumption that the prayer for a child was one prayed many times over the course of many years.
I think about three sets of friends who have walked this same journey as Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Praying for children.
Yet, not having children.
Until, one day, God answers.
I don't know why God waited to answer in either the case of Zechariah or our friends. While I don't understand it–and wish that He wouldn't delay–He has a timing that is far superior to our timing. In the case of John, He waited until the time was fulfilled for Jesus to be born. He had a purpose for John–just as He has a purpose for each one of the children of our three friends, our own children, us and you.
And, so, Zechariah prayed.
His prayer was answered.
John was born.
For what are you praying? Don't give up on your prayers!