Tuesday, November 30
God’s direction is sometimes glaringly succinct, his voice unmistakable. “Talk to your neighbor…NOW!” Or as with Peter by the sea, “Follow me.”
But Gabriel’s charge to Zechariah is full of detail. His essential announcement could have been condensed: “Don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayers. You and Elizabeth will have a son.” But as we soon discover, Zechariah desperately needs more nitty-gritty information, and we know it wasn’t a mere brief chat because people waiting outside the Temple were getting worried when Priest Z didn’t exit according to schedule.
Becoming parents past the age of child-bearing is miracle enough, but Gabriel delivers the whole load: the child’s anti-cultural name (under normal circumstances, he would unquestionably be ‘Zachariah Junior’), the joy the child will bring, and details of his spiritual destiny.
In spite of the “This Is Your Life” announcement, Zechariah asks for more verification. How can I be sure of this? I’m almost ready to give Zechariah a pass at this point, but Gabriel steps in with thundering authority: “I AM GABRIEL…God has sent me. Pay attention!”
Stories in scripture and history are full of people who question God, and soon in Luke’s detailed account, we will read of Mary’s own query. Questions aren’t inherently wrong. But there are also circumstances when it’s time to stop the questions, time to listen, trust, and obey. Without answers. A lesson Zechariah will have nine quiet months to learn. What questions are you asking? Or is it time to listen?
Monday, November 29
“I’m just doing my duty, God, I know the ritual: take two handfuls of finely ground incense, place it on the burning coals… I’m getting old, God, my knees hurt. Is any of this worth it? Do I keep trusting you?”
Zechariah’s words spring from my imagination, but are they any different than my thoughts when the “duty” of following Christ wearies my soul, when prayers go unanswered, when God’s hand is invisible, when I’m just plain tired?
Three words leap to my attention: he was chosen.. True, Zechariah’s choosing was according to long-established ritual, but it was ritual according to God’s direction. When years have gone by, when physical frailty or dashed expectations cloud what we once believed so earnestly, it’s easy to forget that we too have been chosen. …before the foundation of the world, he chose us to become, in Christ, his holy and blameless children, living within his constant care (Ephesians 1:4, Phillips Translation).
Can you smell the incense? Do you feel Zechariah’s longing and weariness? Sit with him today. Identify with his yearning. Specifically name your own yearning.
Zechariah had no idea what was coming. Maybe that’s you today. You carry the incense of your profession or career or life circumstances with sadness or frustration. Surely God doesn’t intend for life to be like this? Are you brave enough to ask God to use the story of Zechariah to infuse your yearning with hope?
For many years I have published an Advent Meditation booklet for friends and family. This year I’ve decided to try posting it daily on my blog. (If technology cooperates!) For each day you will find verses from the Bible before my text. You will need to find these verses in a Bible for the text to make sense! If you don’t have a Bible, you can Google the verses without a problem. If you are new to the Bible, look up the book (e.g., Luke, Matthew, etc.) in the Table of Contents. I trust this Advent journey will be a blessing.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28
“Get on with it, Luke! I’m ready for shopping and carols. I’m ready for the BIG story.”
.But Luke–determined to write an orderly account–starts describing an event prophesied four centuries earlier in the bleak days of the prophet Malachi. I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me (Malachi 3:1) Luke doesn’t begin with the Messiah but with a Messenger. He doesn’t highlight the politically powerful but a simple woman and man of priestly heritage who have lived with unanswered prayer well into old age and kept the faith through long years of heresy, treachery, religious deterioration.
Luke seems to know that we are often not ready for the transcendent Messiah story until we’ve trod the lonely desert path of disappointment, disillusionment, and doubt. The birth of Christ will introduce hope into a hopeless world but I’m afraid we’re not very good at authentically facing the hopelessness. We want Luke to quickly move to Bethlehem. We want to turn from front page news of starvation (maybe write a check to a humanitarian agency?), sexual abuse (refuse to face it even in our own churches?), unanswered prayer (mouth pithy assertions like “God always says ‘yes, no, or not now'”).
Luke doesn’t include any reasons for God’s silence in Elizabeth and Zechariah’s lives. He simply states the bold facts of reality: …they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Just the facts of life.
The facts of life may be dragging you down this first day of Advent. But God calls us–along with Elizabeth and Zechariah–to the long path of unremitting duty, perhaps wondering if an angel will ever come. The big story will be told. Just not yet.
My Monday Moments hasn’t dropped off the edge of the earth, nor has my Journey of Faith come to an abrupt halt. But since my husband’s diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis late last spring, life is filled with unexpected priorities. A fifty-foot spiraled oxygen hose decorates our condo and the gentle hum of the oxygen concentrator has become our constant background sound effect. Fatigue is Bob’s constant companion and activities are limited although with the help of a classy wheeled walker, he can reach every corner of our small condo. (Did God know we would need this ground level, easy access housing when we moved three years ago?? A foolish question!) And when walking to car or from car to other destinations became too strenuous, we borrowed a sturdy transport chair from our church’s “medical equipment room.”
Lessons learned from earlier life-changing experiences sustain us along with God’s always present nourishing grace. We don’t take lightly the future consequences of this disease but neither do we forget that Jesus came as Immanuel: God with us. God with us in life as it is.
On Pentecost Sunday in June, while reviewing the past Covid epidemic year, our pastor used two challenging phrases uniquely crucial to our situation: Don’t walk out of this experience without being changed by the Holy Spirit and Don’t leave the forge of this experience without being tempered.
While walking in this forge, Bob faces almost every day with a song in his heart and on his lips. He reads voraciously, prays intentionally, and follows doctors’ (and wife’s) orders. Usually with a smile!
The first Sunday of Advent is only three weeks away and my annual booklet of Advent Meditations is just about ready for the printer. Because of increasing postal costs, in addition to mailing to family and a few close friends this year, I’ll be posting each day’s thoughts on this site so be sure to share the news with your friends.