It’s been a tough year. So many things have happened that were not part of the “return to normal” plan after COVID. The details are too numerous to list here, but I can tell you that our Christmas tree was out of the box and fully decorated early this year to force-feed the glow of Christmas joy into our house.
To get into the Biblical spirit of Christmas, I read Luke 1, and the story of Zachariah caught my eye and tugged on my heart.
“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”
What do you think Zachariah was thinking while he was serving? I wonder if he and I felt the same way – thinking, “Here I am serving God and all these people, yet I don’t recall seeing this life path option in the brochure. So, now what?”
The story continues.
“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
I love how the Bible is written about real people. Because just like I would, Zachariah asks, “How?” He was a priest. His job was to be close to God, yet he still found it hard to believe. Just like him, I’m sure this would be my question, too, except with a more emphatic “No way! Listen, Angel guy, I’m not sure you get how this whole thing works, but have you seen all this grey hair?!”
The angel had some things to say about his doubt.
“The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
That part is where the story really started messing with me. Every day for TEN months, Zachariah woke up and could not talk. Not at all.
My dad has a paralyzed vocal cord from a recent viral sinus infection. His ability to talk has been reduced by about 70 percent. I have watched this issue be a gigantic source of frustration and isolation. It sucks to watch, and it hurts my heart for him. But until I read this passage in Luke, I had never wondered what it was doing to my dad’s spirit. I’m sure Zachariah was feeling the same frustrations. No songs to sing or jokes to tell. No way to be heard above the noise of the table. Just this weird promise that sometime in the future, it will be better. If I’m being real, I think I would have started doubting that in week 2.
But, then it happened.
“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment, he wrote, “His name is John.”
Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”
I believe what God was working on in Zachariah is the same thing He is working on in me—giving up control. It was custom in those times to always pass down a family name. It was an honor and part of their heritage and the way it was supposed to be. However, Zachariah chose the name God gave him for his son.
God silenced Zachariah’s voice so he could truly hear His voice. During that ten months of silence, God was trading out Zachariah’s will for His own. God exchanged Zachariah’s life plan for a higher one.
This lesson is the gift I needed this Christmas season. It’s the best present swap I’ve ever been invited to and the gift I never knew I always needed. Maybe you’re there too. Are things not going according to plan? Do you catch yourself saying, “But it wasn’t supposed to be like this!”
If so, join me in this prayer, “Dear God, even through the pain, the inconveniences, and the doubt that come my way this month and in the upcoming year, give me the sight to see that You have a greater plan for me because you love me, and like Zachariah, I am Your chosen servant. Amen.”
We will get through this together!
In His service and at yours!