Monday, December 21, 2015

Hopeful Expectations

Zechariah was fulfilling this dream of a lifetime, burning the incense and sending the prayers of the people up to God. When suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to him in the temple. He was startled and gripped with fear in the face of this angel. And so the angel has to say to him what angels always seem to be saying, “Do not be afraid.”

Isn’t it interesting that here is a man of God, a priest no less. One that is described as faithful and blameless. His wife is the same way. He is an old man who never wavered or wondered away from the religious life of his calling. He finally gets the chance of a lifetime to enter the temple’s holiest area, and he encounters a messenger from God… and he’s surprised, startled, and scared! It’s almost like that’s the last thing he expected to happen to him while in this holy place. Even the faithful may grow dull in their expectations, however.

That’s just what happened to old Zechariah that day in the temple. God broke through, broke in, startled the unexpectant Zechariah and said, “Your prayer has been answered.” Could there have been anymore stunning news than that? The personal prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth were about to be answered. They were going to have a son. Their shame cast off once and for all. Their hopes of carrying on the family name.

The corporate prayers of all Israel were being answered. Israel was going to receive a prophet who would turn the hearts of the people back to God.

It would be John who would prepare for the way for the Lord and make straight paths for him. Every valley would be filled and every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads made straight and the rough places plain. And all mankind would see God’s salvation. The old man’s prayers were going to be answered.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in this revelation of grace. It’s a reminder and lesson for Christmas past, present, and future to hold on to old prayers. Maintain hope in the midst of darkness. Keep hopeful expectations burning even when the dullness of years seems to cloud their light.

But in the presence of this good news, Zechariah just can’t bring himself to accept it at face value. Upon hearing the hope he responds, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” He wants a sign. He wants to be sure. Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure of this?” He’s not seeking an explanation. He’s seeking evidence. I want to be sure. I want to be certain. Give me more evidence. Which, of course, the angel did by shutting his mouth for the next 9 months until John was born.

And so it came to pass. Three months before the birth of Christ to a virgin, came the birth of John his cousin to a mother “well along in years.” Elizabeth simple said, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” God did it. Not when Zechariah and Elizabeth thought he would do it. In fact, it’s quite likely they never thought such a wonderful thing would happen. They had resigned themselves to go faithfully to the grave barren, ashamed, yet upright in the sight of God. But God did it in his time.

And so the call for you and me is to keep the flame of hopeful expectations burning. Enter into the presence of God when it’s God’s time for us to come. In the midst of our long years of uprightness and keeping the Lord’s commands blamelessly, we keep expecting God to do God-like things.