Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Reader: “The Sun of Righteousness will rise.”
Response: “With healing in his wings.”
Scripture: Luke 1:5-17
When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
We look today at a passage more familiar to the nativity story. God’s people had been waiting for 400 years since the prophets had last spoken. Silence. Not so much as a whisper. It reminds one of the 400 years the Israelites waited for a redeemer to come to bring deliverance from the Egyptians. You’ll recall Moses and his brother, Aaron, both of the tribe of Levi, led the people from slavery. There are some parallels between the two stories.
In the passage above, we read of God ending the silence and putting his redemption plan into motion with the coming of John the Baptist who would be the forerunner of the coming Messiah as foretold by the last First Testament prophet, Malachi. Luke mentions that the angel was on the right side of the incense altar. The “right side” is always the place of strength, of authority. It carries the voice of the center position. (Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.)
Zechariah did not expect anyone would be joining him at the altar. Most of the time when angels appeared to people in the Scriptures, the people were terrified. Likewise, when being confronted by God speaking from the burning bush, Moses was terrified. Such was a normal reaction. In Zechariah’s case, the angel said, “God has heard your prayer.” Similarly, when God called Moses to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, his words to Moses were, “I have heard the cries of distress . . . so I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex.3:7)
Like the Israelites pleading with God regarding their circumstances, apparently Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are both, like Moses and Aaron of the priestly tribe of Levi, had been praying for a child for many, many years. All of those years of wondering if their prayer would ever be answered came to a glorious end, both for the Israelites and the priest and his wife! Their son would be the “Elijah” heralding the coming of the long, long awaited Messiah and Moses would be a Christ type redeemer leading God’s people from slavery to freedom.
Given this wonderful news of the coming birth of their son, old Zechariah had his doubts as did Moses regarding his leading the exodus. We can too easily identify with them. After waiting so long for something, we often have a tendency to hold back in believing and rejoicing to our detriment. Moses never did enter the Promised Land because of disobedience and lack of faith. Zechariah had to remain silent for nine months for his lack of faith. At the birth of John, old Zack’s tongue was finally set free. My guess is that he had a lot to say! God’s plan is moving ahead. It still is . . . Don’t doubt.
Music: “Song of Zechariah: Benedictus Dominus Deus Choirs of All Saints Church, Beverly Hills, CA. (7:25) The text of Lk. 1:68-79 plus Glory Be to the Father
“Benedictus Dominus Deus” Christmas Carol Service at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, London (3:07) same setting with English text different composer
Prayer:Father, as the day of your appearing draws ever closer, create in me a longing for your arrival. Let me not falter in faith, nor fear the unknown. Let me never trust my perspective rather than yours. Give me courage not to hedge in my faith but to trust in your word completely. May your Return not simply be a remote theological idea having little impact on my life today. It’s far too easy to treat the Second Coming as an idea rather than a reality. Let me truly believe and consciously live for your return. With Zechariah, let me not waiver in prayer, but be fervent. ―Daniel Sharp