Sunday, December 6, 2015
As we continue digging into the Advent theme of waiting, I think of another person surrounding the Birth of Jesus who also had to do a great deal of waiting. I’m thinking of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
Apart from hearing about him as a sort of secondary character in the Nativity story, whose 5 minutes of fame were certainly short-lived, I have never really thought about Zechariah all that much. Today, however, as I collect my thoughts around people who experienced periods of waiting during that glorious time of Jesus’ arrival here on earth, this old priest’s story pops into my head. And you know what I found out? Zechariah means, in Hebrew, Jehovah has Remembered. Isn’t that just perfect!
Anyway, who is this man? Most of what we know about Zechariah is found in Luke chapter 1. We know he was a priest from the division of Abijah in the time of King Herod of Judea. Abijah was one of the 24 divisions of priests instituted by King David to serve in the temple. They were descendants from Aaron, Moses’ brother, and they were very high up in the hierarchical ladder of the Jewish society back then. Zechariah was married to Elizabeth, who was also a descendant of Aaron. In other words, they were a power couple.
Life seemed to be good for Zechariah and Elizabeth…that is, however, if you overlook the fact that they were childless and well beyond the years of possibility. Childlessness was not a good thing for anybody back in those days, especially not for a man of God. Inability to procreate was seen as something terrible…as lack of God’s favor in your life…not a good thing for a priest.
Zechariah could have very well divorced Elizabeth and moved on with his life and a younger, non-barren wife. But the fact that he didn’t is very telling. It makes one think he was a man of his word. It makes one think he was a man in love.
They both were people of good character. Like Luke says: Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. (Luke 1: 6) They were not cursed like most people might have thought. They were devout and rather than giving up, they continued to pray…at least we know Zechariah did.
I imagine Zechariah as a young man, filled with hope and pride as he took his bride home to start a family. I imagine him disappointed as the years went by and he still did not have a child. I imagine him on his knees praying day and night for God to make him a father. I imagine him crying as his hair kept growing grayer and grayer each day. I imagine him looking at his beloved Elizabeth bearing the burden of barrenness and feeling a deep sense of helplessness and the beginning of hopelessness sinking in. I can almost imagine the moments of despair, when doubt would filter into his brain and anger would bring the unanswered “why” to the foreground…leaving a faint taste of bitterness into his soul.
Year after year Zechariah kept on praying and waiting…until he began to sense the answer change from “wait” to “no.” But one day…but wonderfully, fateful day…The God Almighty, the One Through Whom All Things Are Possible, finally delivered him in such a mighty way!
God made good on the promise of Zechariah’s name… He remembered!
The good news is that God didn’t only remember back then. He doesn’t only remember important people or people of high rank. From the lowest to the highest; from the beginning of time to this very second, God remembers all of His children, all the time. The fact that He remembers doesn’t mean, however, that the wait is any shorter or that there aren’t any periods of trial, hardship and silence. As we will see in Zechariah’s story tomorrow; the angel brought to him the announcement of the fulfilment of God’s promise; but Zechariah’s reaction to the news caused the unfolding of a lesson that was as good for him 2,000 thousand years ago, as it is for us today.