During Advent, we are featuring devotionals written by clergy of the Greater NJ Annual Conference of the UMC. For this first week, we are focused on reflections related to Zechariah, the skeptical father of John the Baptist, and his wife Elizabeth.
5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. 8 One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. 10 All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. 11 An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.
13 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. 16 He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God.
23 When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. 24 Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, 25 “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.”
76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.”
80 The child grew up, becoming strong in character. He was in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
Sometimes I wonder how Zechariah shared the news with Elizabeth about what had happened in the temple that day he angel appeared with the good news that, after all these years, Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a child. Did he try to write it out for her? Draw pictures? Perhaps play an elaborate game of charades, pantomiming all that had occurred and what was to come?
Or did he just remain silent?
The consequences of his disbelief seem a bit harsh- after all, when Sarah overheard similar good news she laughed out loud and received nothing but a mild rebuke. Not so with Zechariah, who loses his voice for at least nine months. And yet, his question is totally reasonable: “How will I know this is so?” Later, a similar question will be asked by Mary: “How can this be?”
When we hear news that is simply too good to be true, it is natural to blurt out questions like these: How can this be? How will I know? How can I be sure that what you say is true? Whether voiced with suspicion, incredulity, or a little bit of both, these questions help us to begin to wrap our heads around the good, perhaps even impossible, news we have
received. Sometimes our questions lead to more questions that open up a conversation that leads to deeper understanding.
Sometimes our question remains unanswered, at least for the time being, and we are left, like Zechariah, waiting in silence for the truth to be revealed.
Perhaps, you too, have a question on your heart. Are you bold enough to give voice to it? In this season of waiting, may you trust that even in the silence you may ﬁnd the answer you seek.
By the Rev. Amanda Rohrs
For Pondering & Prayer
What questions – about faith, about yourself, about the world and people around you – do you bring to this Advent season?