This past Sunday, we kicked off one of my favorite traditions at Northstar, December Nights. I can’t quite put my finger on why I love this tradition so much, but there is just something different, something special about meeting in the evening for the entire month of December. Maybe it is because I get to sleep in on Sunday mornings or maybe it is because it sets December apart from the rest of the year.
We’ve taken a break from our Created & Called series and started Advent season by looking at the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25). The first thing that stuck out to me about the teaching on this section of scripture is that John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were both righteous in God’s sight, but they were without children (verses 6-7). As the passage continues, we are provided with proof that Zechariah was righteous. He had been chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense (verse 9).
So here we have what I would call a rockstar couple. They are a faithful, servant-hearted couple who love the Lord and are righteous in God’s sight. However, they had no children. I can’t even begin to imagine how Elizabeth must have felt. I wonder what her conversations with herself and with God were like when she thought about the fact the she couldn’t have children. I know she believed that God could take away her barrenness and bless her and Zechariah with a child. One of the things Jeff said Sunday is that we can be right with God and still be disappointed. And talk about disappointed! I think culturally it may be hard for us to grasp the fullness of what Elizabeth’s disappointment looked and even felt like. We know other women in the Old Testament – from Sarai and Hagar to Rachel and Leah – that women were desperate to have children. They’d give their husbands another woman so that they could have a child. Just take a moment to let that sink in.
In spite of her barrenness and whatever the resulting emotions were, Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous. They didn’t lash out irrationally and sin against God because He didn’t grant their prayers for a child. They continued to walk with Him in the middle of their disappointment.
While Zechariah was in the sanctuary of the Lord, an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth would bear him a son and that their son would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord and make ready for the Lord a prepared people. Although he was righteous, he was also human, so Zechariah didn’t believe Gabriel. This was the second thing that stuck out to me. Here is a priest, a righteous man who is one of God’s chosen people who can enter into his presence and he didn’t believe what Gabriel was telling him AND he was honest enough to say it out loud. Whoa.
I don’t know why, but I have a hard time being that honest with God. For some reason, I think if I just pretend like I believe, at some point my feelings and belief will catch on. No matter how many times I’m shown that they won’t catch on, I still find myself wrestling with being honest before the Lord so I am encouraged by Zechariah’s honesty and unbelief.
Because Zechariah did not believe what Gabriel had told him, he was unable to speak until John was born. After his ministry was complete, he went back home and Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months.
Even though he didn’t know it, Zechariah was right in the middle of God’s activity. Before the angel of the Lord appeared to him the sanctuary, God had been silent for 400 years. Four hundred years!
Two of the takeaways Jeff mentioned Sunday night were:
- We shouldn’t get discouraged when God throws a curve ball at us.
- God’s provision is for us and for others as well.
Nothing surprises God. If we believe that God is all powerful and all knowing, we have to believe that nothing surprises Him. He knows our hurts, our pasts, our successes, our failures, our disappointments, our weaknesses, our strengths, all of it and He will still accomplish His purposes through us! Even as I write this, I’m fighting feelings of discouragement from what I perceive to be a curve ball thrown my way. But what if it isn’t a curve ball? What if it is something that is intended to bless me and others around me as well?
It is because of Zechariah, though, that I won’t run from or deny feeling discouraged. It is because of his honesty that I am motivated to be honest before the Lord with my feelings and thoughts and to work it out with Him so that He can help my unbelief. And it is because of Elizabeth that I long to be in a place where I can say, “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days…”
So my question for you is where are you this Advent season? Are you in period of silence and longing to hear from God? Are you walking through a season of disappointment and hurt? Are you worshipping God for what He has done for you?
Regardless of where you are, I pray that this Advent season will be time that draws you near to the heart of God and that as you seek Him daily in prayer, scripture, and reflection, you will feel at peace knowing that God is at work all around you, even in unmet expectations.