He was a good man, a very good man. A priest. He loved the Lord. He was a rule follower. Yet for years he and his wife Elizabeth had suffered the ultimate ancient-times disgrace – infertility. Elizabeth was barren. No amount of praying, no amount of you-know-what, had produced the child they longed for. Perhaps a miracle could have occurred at some point during Elizabeth’s child bearing years, they had certainly asked for one. But now – well, now they were definitely way too old.
Zechariah is chosen by lot to light the incense in the temple – the highlight of his career, so to speak. It’s a big day. After he lights it, he prays, he opens his eyes, and there is an angel standing right there who tells him that, after all this time, his prayers have been answered! Not only is he going to have a son named John, but this is going to be Some. Special. Son. One who will bring joy to everyone and, in the spirit of Elijah (major biblical times buzz word – they knew Elijah meant Messiah On Board) “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
WOW! This is some big announcement. So does Zechariah rejoice? Does he whoop and holler and praise God and thank the angel?
Nope. Standing just feet from the Holy of Holies, confronted by the angel Gabriel, majestic and terrifying in all his full-on, I-have-a-message-from-God angel glory, Zachariah responds, “How can I be sure of this?”
Let’s paraphrase this, shall we? It’s as though Zachariah says, “I really don’t think you know what you’re talking about. I’m old. Liz is old. A baby? Oh, silly angel, that’s impossible.”
Gabriel is understandably ticked off. So much so that he strikes Zechariah deaf and dumb for the next nine months, until after John the Baptist is born.
I understand his disbelief, I really do. He had tried for years and years and years to have a baby. He had done everything in his own power to make it happen. Probably tried every old wives tale in the book, drank all kinds of herbal potions, consulted every specialist. All to no avail.
I was a lot like Zechariah. Throughout my twenties, I really, really, really wanted to get married. I read books, I consulted hours with friends. I even, in a latenight act of desperation, ordered a DVD from an infomercial. I tried to twist the arm of many a man into putting a ring on my finger. All to no avail.
So then when it seemed to me that God dropped a certain “we’re just friends” man out of the sky and into my lap with a wedding proposal, did I jump for joy? Did I whoop and holler and praise God?
Well, yes, initially. But very soon, I felt like Zechariah. I had prayed for a husband for years, sure. But not this one. I did indeed love this proposer but you see I had a plan, and this? This was not it. I had to confess I even felt a little perturbed with God for mapping out my life and choosing my husband without even discussing it with me.
And later, like Zechariah, I also had a baby come when I really wasn’t planning on it. I had prayed for children, oh yes. But I wanted them to come on my terms, when I determined they should come.
I prayed for God’s will to be done in my life, but then when he did it, I sounded a lot like my (surprise pregnancy) three year old daughter, crying out, “Me do it!”
Also, like you, I have had devastating things enter my life that I would never have asked for. Times when I really felt that I should be in control, not God.
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, an angel appears to a young unmarried girl. He tells her that she will bear a child, a child whose reign over his kingdom will never end. Good news! Mary will never suffer the shame of her cousin, and the fruit of her womb will the Son of the Most High.
But it is also frightening news. News that might destroy her world, and will certainly wreak havoc on all her plans. She will be an unwed mother, who will have to explain things to her fiance, and her parents, and her community. She will risk being disbelieved and mocked and outcast and possibly even stoned to death. And she didn’t even know the worst of it yet – Simeon reveals to her later that she will suffer pain like a sword piercing her soul, because she will eventually lose this very beloved son. (Luke 2:35)
Mary asks Gabriel almost the same question as Zechariah – almost. And yet, her response revealed so much about her faith. Mary says, “How will this be?” How is God going to accomplish that which God has already determined that God will do? The angel graciously fills her in on a few of the details and then Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:34, 38)
We are now in the new year. I have a whole list of resolutions. I have lots of plans for 2009. I feel sure than 2009 will bring many joys. But it is possible – well, it is certain – that 2009 will bring us all some disappointments as well. Some surprises. Some unexpected kinks are destined to be thrown into our plans.
Some things are going to enter our lives this year that we will just flat-out have absolutely no control over. Some may be joyful. Some may be difficult. Some may pierce our souls like a sword.
We may not have control over what the Lord wills for our lives in 2009, but we will have control over how we respond to to it. Will we be a Zechariah, and doubt the providence and sovereignty of God? Will we feel annoyed at our holy God invading our lives? Will we cry out, “Back off God! You don’t know what you’re doing! Your timing stinks! ME DO IT!”
Or will we be Mary? Will we stare at our circumstances for what they are, and declare, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
I am praying now that I will be a Mary this year. That I will trust in my God, my protector, my very present help in times of trouble, the author of my faith and the shepherd of my life. I am praying that daily my faith will remain strong and that my soul will magnify the Lord, and not my circumstances.
Can I do it by myself? Absolutely not. I am a selfish self-centered sinner who can do no good on my own(oh, you too?) But the Lord has told me that his grace is sufficient, that his Holy Spirit will guide me, and bring God’s Word to my mind to remind me that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.
And therefore I know that 2009 will be a year of abundant blessings.