Day 1 - December 3, 2017

Zechariah, Given the Benefit of the Doubt

As we approach another Advent season, I find myself interested in someone not in the forefront of the Christmas story. At first glance, he is more involved in the preparation for Jesus’ ministry than in His birth. But Zechariah (along with his barren wife Elizabeth, 1:7) provides an interesting lead up to the Christmas story and clearly contributes to the understanding of Jesus’ birth as described in Luke’s gospel as the fulfillment of God’s promise to send His Messiah to Israel. 

Luke begins his gospel with the account of the birth of John the Baptist and how his parents—Zechariah and Elizabeth—faced personal struggles in the process of becoming the parents of John. In previous Advent devotionals, I have spoken about Elizabeth’s barrenness and how God miraculously worked to bring about the miracle birth of her child (1:25) who was to become the one who “prepared the way of the Messiah” (Luke 3:4-6). The coming of John was part of God’s plan to bring salvation to His people Israel. But He accomplishes His plans through people who don’t always make it easy; such is the case of Zechariah.

Aware of the shame of Elizabeth because of never producing a child for Zechariah, no doubt he prayed continually for his wife, only to be denied his request. It would not surprise me if he had given up this hope, for both adults were past the age of having children. Yet it was during an important occasion in this aged priest’s life that his prayer was answered though he remained unconvinced such a “miracle’’ would ever take place. 

There were so many priests in Israel at this time that not every priest would be able to officiate by entering “the temple of the Lord to burn incense” (1:9). In fact, many priests would never have this opportunity to do so in their lifetime. But when Zechariah was chosen to do so, it is not an exaggeration to say he would have considered that day “as the greatest day in his life; something he had always dreamed of.” And this is where I would like to take us over four more devotions. God finally answers our prayers after many years and you would think we would accept it with open arms; but my guess is most of us can’t believe God actually answered our prayers and hence, we fail to believe the good news. Thankfully, God is not hindered by our lack of faith; He will accomplish His purpose and in the meantime, teach us what it means to trust and enjoy Him even if He must discipline us along the way. This is what we will explore in the upcoming devotions.

Dear Father, who answers our prayers often when we don’t really believe You will, forgive us and teach us to be open and accepting of Your way of doing things. In Jesus’ name, amen.

submitted by the Reverend Dr. Richard Menninger, Andrew B. Martin Professor of Religion

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