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. Yesterday, we looked at the prayer–and subsequent answer–of Zechariah. Today, we turn our attention to the angel's command regarding John.
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 angel tells Zechariah that John is never to drink wine or fermented drink. Tradition has often interpreted this to mean that John was a Nazarite from birth. While, we don't know for sure if John was a Nazarite or not, we do know that this command set John apart from others.
The 40+ days associated with my Nazarite Vow were formative for the life we now lead as a family. It was during this period that God began to birth within us a heart for the nations. It was during this period that we saw God miraculously pay off a $18,000 student loan. It was during this period that we saw God provide $1,500 for Stephanie and I to take our first international missions trip together to Mexico (pictures here).Throughout the period of Lent in 2011, I took a Nazarite vow. For six weeks, I didn't touch any dead thing, didn't touch the fruit of the vine (in any form), and didn't cut my hair. It was quite an experience that I wrote about on my personal blog. If you want to read more, you can go here.
Yet, it was also immediately after this time that we found out my job was being eliminated.
As I read this account of Zechariah's prayer and answer, I often take a pause at reading the command that John would be a Nazarite. Prior taking this vow myself, I had no idea what that even really meant. Yet, walking through 40 days of learning what was and wasn't “acceptable” lends a new appreciation for what was John's normal life.
John had been set apart for a great cause from birth. The Nazarite Vow was his constant reminder of that.
I remember from my own time as a Nazarite the feelings/thoughts that occured when I would come across something related to the vow.
Everytime my kids would eat a grape or raisin, I would be reminded of my vow.
Everytime I wanted to put on a pair of shoes and couldn't due to them being made of leather, I would be reminded of my vow.
Everytime I looked in a mirror, I would be reminded of my vow.
I would be reminded that I had been set apart.
And, now, while no longer a Nazarite, I still have reminders of being set apart for something.
Every purchase being measured to make sure it will fit in the suitcase and wouldn't put us overweight.
Every gift for our children being calculated to determine if it had pratical advantage, or if it would fit in their backpack.
And, from that knowledge of being set apart, we know that God is ever calling us closer to Him. Calling us to become more intertwined in relationship. Calling us to be more dependent. Calling us to be more set apart.
So, John, the Nazarite from birth, set apart at the command of God to his father, knew with every passing moment that God had called him.
And, today, God calls us. He calls me. He calls you.
Will you answer?