Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent 2014 - Zechariah

I was reading this morning the account of Zechariah In the first chapter of Luke. Luke was telling about when Zechariah took his turn in the Sanctuary to burn incense to God and was told he and his wife (both in very advanced years) would be expecting a child. There were a number of things that struck me throughout the passage. Here are a couple of them. Maybe they'll resonate with you, too.

1) In the Message version of the passage (Luke 1:8} it says Zechariah finally got his ONE TURN to serve in the sanctuary. The New Living Translation as well as the NIV says, "he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary..." and the KJV says, "...his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple...." The point made was that the high priests - the very people meant to be closest to God and chosen by Him - waited (patiently?) for their lot to be chosen so they could go to meet with Him.

HALLELUJAH!! We don't have to wait!! As believers in His Son, Jesus Christ - a baby born to a virgin, fully God yet fully Man, crucified for our sake; Risen to conquer the enemy of our souls -  WE DON'T HAVE TO WAIT!!!! We. ARE. in His presence - always. His spirit resides in us, and He is available to us without having to wait for our turn to arrive.

I don't know about you, but that's pretty much a WOOP! WOOP! moment in my morning!

2) This one is a bit more sobering. (God does that, doesn't He? It's akin to the "which do you want first? Good news or challenging news?") Picture Zechariah, an aged man. A man whose anniversaries number in the upper double digits. A man who has prayed since his wedding night that he and his bride would have the opportunity to be parents. Picture him in the sanctuary - igniting the flame to light the incense, humbled by the awesomeness of being alone in the inner sanctum of the very God he has devoted his life to, maybe quivering a bit with the grandeur of the task, and I can't help but wonder if his heart's silent prayer was "Lord? Do I really trust You? I've prayed for years a prayer You have not answered the way I want. I love You with everything in me, but can I trust You to care for me? I offer this incense as a sacrifice for the people I serve...I give You thanks and praise for all we have seen You do in our lives...I believe You are the One True God Who will not be explained, but can I trust You with my greatest desire?"

Picture yourself in that place.

Maybe you've been a believer for years  - maybe you're married to an unbeliever and you've been praying for their salvation since before you even said I do. Maybe you're in pain and have prayed for delivery for much longer than you thought you'd have to. What is your heart's silent prayer? As you serve Him, worship Him, share Him with others - what would you NOT be saying out loud for fear that someone may call you a hypocrite (or worse yet, you find that He isn't who you say He is)?

Gabriel appears.

Do you see that? GABRIEL APPEARS! An ANGEL! Not Roma Downey with special effects, GABRIEL!!! Do you think Zechariah's heart stopped? Just a little? I know when I'm focused on a task and my husband walks into the room and suddenly appears before me my heart stops - and he doesn't glow! Imagine Gabriel appearing where no one other than the High Priest is supposed to be! The passage says Zechariah was paralyzed with fear. A completely understandable reaction. However, after he hears what Gabriel says to him you'd think he was talking to his, I don't know, brother-in-law or something! I'd like to think my eyes would be wide open, my ears equally so and I'd defintely take the time to listen to what is said.

Zechariah listened...but then he doubted what this miraculously appearing, brilliant and beautiful being sent straight to him from God Himself had to say to him.

I'm a bit disappointed in Zack here. Really? AN ANGEL JUST SPOKE TO HIM and he's saying, "hahaha - yeah, right."???? Seriously?

But that's the sobering part.

I've done that.

I've doubted God's Word. I haven't had a brilliantly clothed being from heaven appear before me and whisper sweet somethings in my ear, but I've read and "heard" Him speak to my heart.

And I've doubted what He said.

Have you?

Y'know, the whole process is pretty familiar. Zechariah looks forward to spending time with God in the inner sanctuary of the temple - we look forward to spending time with God when we go to Church, during our quiet time, when we go on retreat. Zechariah believes in God - we believe His Word and have chosen to place our trust in Him. Zechariah approaches the altar with expectation - we open God's Word expecting to be taught, changed, made better. We are not that different from Zechariah.

We even doubt, don't we?

I have my own stuff I'm processing through with God about the challenge and triumph this passage is, but that's for me to work through with God. You have your stuff, too, so I'll let you go there with God. In your processing, though, ask Him to reveal to you what you're not trusting Him with. What are your silent heart prayers? This will take time - it's possible He will reveal it to you in a flash, but I've also seen Him take a longer time with the answer (usually I've seen that because to reveal it right away would be like cutting open a cocoon for a butterfly to fly free. You'd be free, but not strong enough in your faith to withstand the attacks of our soul's enemy).

So, are you willing to turn the Zechariah in you around? Take time each day to notice Him - to notice God's creativity and work in your life. I personally lay out a challenge to find 15 minutes of absolute quiet (no distractions - mute your phone, turn off the radio, have a pad of paper and pen beside you where you can write down what items on your to-do list try to distract you so you can get back to focusing on God) and just listen. It takes practice - don't beat yourself up because you don't quiet down immediately. It's taken me  a lot of years to train my A.D.D. mind to quiet itself so I can hear my Father's voice.

We are capable of turning the Zechariah around and, instead, being an Elizabeth who says, (my paraphrase) "huh. so THIS is how You do it? Alrighty then. Let's go!"

Here is the text from the Message version (sometimes I like to read it in this version so my thinker doesn't have to work so hard on what's being said and can instead focus on what it's saying). If you'd like to read it in another version you can go here and choose another translation.

Luke 1:1-25 MSG

So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught.

During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering.

Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear. But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

“He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”

Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”

But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time— God’s time.”

Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.

When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn’t long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. “So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!” she said.