Zechariah was an old man when the news came. Mary was a young girl.
Within a short time, they were both visited by Gabriel, an angel of God, with the awesome news about a baby coming under extremely improbable circumstances.
They had two totally different responses.
His was, ‘Shut up – no way!’, even though he ministered in the temple and was thought to be closer to God than ordinary people. Gabriel put his vocal chords out of commission because he had allowed the hope that God could/would answer prayer to die within him.
Hers was, ‘Here I am. I’ll be a vessel used by the Lord.’, even though she was a young woman, viewed as useless in God’s kingdom. She was still so young. Hope and faith were alive in her, so she took the news in stride and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, (Zechariah’s wife), for three months.
When Gabriel showed up with the exciting news, it was already a done deal. John the Baptist, (Zechariah’s son), was to be the forerunner to the Christ, (Mary’s son). Despite the parents’ different responses, they both came out of that season with a song praising God.
Zechariah was late to the joy and excitement, but in the months ahead, as he watched his old wife bear their son, it became clear to him that God had indeed answered this deep longing of theirs, his confidence in who God is, and his joy because of it, grew. Maybe he wrote the song in those months when his mouth was shut and all he had for expression was a writing tablet.
It’s easy to rush to judge Zechariah because we think he should have known better. Yet, would you consider the possibility that we each carry a bit of Mary and a bit of Zechariah within us? If we are honest with ourselves we may find that faith and hope can be alive in one area of our hearts, and dead in another.
I find this to be true in me. There are some promises of God that I continue to believe in even though I see absolutely no sign of even the faintest of winds blowing to fan that hope into reality; and there are desires I believe God has spoken to me about that seem like dry bones with no hope of life. I am both Zechariah and Mary. Does that ring true for you too?
It might be time to look at Zechariah differently.
For some people I’ve spoken with, 2020 has cradled the promise of ‘dead things coming back to life‘. Dead dreams, hopes, prayers, and faith, are being revived by the Holy Spirit. Forgotten promises that God whispered to us a long time ago, words that were spoken over us in years past, are once again gaining sinew, bones, and flesh, and becoming as real to us as they once were. In spite of ourselves and our circumstances, we see God moving. Doubt is leaving, and our hands are open in anticipation of direction, gifts, and mercy that are beyond our expectations.
If this isn’t your story, and you are still in Zechariah mode, it’s okay to give yourself some grace. I think that’s basically what my message is today. Of course you’d like to always be like Mary, responding with eagerness and obedience to the new, tough, exciting things God has for you, but none of us is always there. ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’. It’s a natural response to be heartsick when you’ve been a long time on a hard journey.
Keep going, my friend, even if you’re not feeling Mary’s vibes, even if the journey has been long, and even if in one area of your life you’ve left hope and faith behind. Keep holding on and doing the good things you know to do. I would love it if you’re still reading this, to jump into chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke. Read the songs that both Mary and Zechariah end up singing, even though their initial responses to the great news were different, and even though they were in different places on their hope journey.
Important to the understanding of this story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary, is taking a different look at the God who was behind it all. He was getting ready to create a shift in how people would see Him. Miracles, the likes of which had never been seen before, were coming to the earth. He was about to to grace earth with His presence in human form, and He was using people to make that happen. Zechariah was hand-picked to be a part of this story – to be John’s father. God knew exactly where the priest’s heart was when he sent Gabriel to speak with him. So before you judge him, remember that Zechariah’s disbelief and questions did not disqualify him for the job God had picked out for him.
God knows exactly where you are too, and He understands it. At the same time, He’s got big plans that often require us to be ready when He calls us to action, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Pray to have a heart of anticipation and expectation that at any ordinary moment He can call on you to join him in something huge. At any ordinary moment He can give you the deepest desire of your heart; pray to be ready to receive His good gifts. Amen! May it be so!
Reading Luke’s historical account gives me hope that it’s okay for me to be both Zechariah and Mary, and that it’s possible, even with hope dying within me, for God’s faithfulness to bring me back to life and into a song of gratitude. We don’t have to have the perfect response when God grants a desire that we have long hoped and prayed for. Still, it is really good to give thanks, to live in gratitude, and be vocal with your thanks.
For many years in my Christian walk, I’d freak out every time God answered a prayer – even though I had prayed and hoped for just such an answer. God would come through with more than I had asked for, and my response was most often like Zechariah’s: there was a lot of fear, and the question, ‘How do you expect me to believe this?’
And just like Zechariah, when over and over I realized that God didn’t pull His hand away because I was scared to receive His gift, I gradually warmed up to the idea that this was a real answer to prayer, and I’d slowly open up my hands fully to receive it.
Noticing this pattern in myself, I thought about how I would feel if someone I loved did that to me every time. I knew I wouldn’t like it, so I prayed to change. I asked God to forgive me my doublemindedness, (praying for something but being in disbelief when the prayer was answered), and asked Him to give me peace and certainty along with any answer to prayer that He gave me; that instead of responding with fear, that I would take a deep breath, and immediately say, ‘Thank You!’
Unlearning that fear, and in its place, choosing to learn instant gratitude, has taken me years. I’ve gradually gone, by God’s grace and patience, from being less like Zechariah, to being more like Mary. Using the repeated practice of immediately identifying gratitude is becoming more a part of my life. I’ve made progress.
So, instead of beating yourself up for not jumping up with rejoicing in the moment you received your good news of answered prayer from God, remember how loved you are; and that our Father in heaven loves to give us good gifts. He does not expect us to be perfect, and understands our limitations. The key, I believe, is that when we see those limitations in ourselves, that we don’t stay stuck there, but ask Him for His help in renewing our minds and helping us to learn new habits.