We are only four weeks away from Christmas and our thoughts naturally turn to shopping, cooking, family gatherings, traveling and cookies – especially the cookies. Somewhere in the midst of all the holiday goings-on is that story about Jesus. We know the general outline: Angel, Mary, Bethlehem, no room in the inn, stable, birth, shepherds and wise men. All the makings of a good nativity scene – however historically inaccurate they are. But over the next several weeks I would like to explore some of the supporting characters to this great divine story. Some we know well, or at least we think we know them well, and some we hardly think about, but each one still has an important message to us today about our relationship with Jesus.
The first person I want to consider is Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. Here is a story of faithfulness and fear all working together to bring about a great blessing. Here is part of his story.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 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”… After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived,
So here’s the first thing to keep in mind. When an angel appears to you – don’t make him mad. It’s just bad etiquette.
OK, let’s get serious now and get to the main point. Zechariah was a righteous, godly man who all his life remained faithful to God. And God knew that. Zechariah was also a man who prayed regularly and passionately for a son. And God heard him. The main problem was that God’s timing and Zechariah’s timing were not in synch. Go figure. I wonder if by this time in his life Zechariah was no longer sure God would come through with a son. Perhaps after all these years and considering the circumstances it was time to rethink his plan or redirect his prayers. Perhaps that is why he had such a hard time digesting and believing what Gabriel said to him. I think most of us would have reacted the same way. But I don’t believe Zechariah had given up. I think in spite of Zechariah’s fumbling response and moment of incredulity, God still had a sweet spot for Zechariah. He didn’t rescind His promise; He just let Zechariah sweat it out for another nine months. He made Zechariah be silent in His presence and watch the Lord fulfill His promise. The point here is that God’s promises depend on God’s character – not ours. God does what He says He will do. But I think He also responds to our faithfulness and dependence on Him. We simply cannot give up, turn back or turn away. Why? Because God fulfills His promises. We just don’t know when.
And that is the main point I want to take away from this story. There are things I believe God promised me years ago – some of them as far back as 25-30 ago. Some I’ve seen fulfilled and some I’m still waiting for. But if I take anything away from Zechariah’s story is that remaining faithful, persevering, praying, trusting and waiting are all part – a necessary part – of this Christian life. And I hope this is an encouragement for others. Those who are praying or have been praying for family or friends, relationships or circumstances, now is not the time to give up – no matter how long you’ve been praying. God will respond, we just don’t know when, but usually it’s when we least expected it.
Here’s the end of the story. Once John was born to Elizabeth, Zechariah’s voice returned to him and he broke out into praise to God. Zechariah’s faithfulness resulted in God receiving glory and the world receiving the herald of the Christ – God is coming among us! May our faithfulness also result in many hearing that great news.