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.
Luke 1:5-16, 23-25, 76-80 (CEB)
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.
A lot is expected of a clergy family.
I’ve always known.
Not just a priest’s wife, this “holy lifestyle” is in my bones
We pray together. Have people over.
Keep our mouths from blame.
Not just because we’re supposed to.
God is good.
We’ve had a good life.
We are grateful
— most of the time.
We’ve always wanted a family.
It’s not that the family of God isn’t enough…
It’s not that Zech and I aren’t a family, just the two of us…
But we’ve always wanted a baby
of our own.
Nieces and nephews, friends’ kids, they’re great but…
Those pudgy cheeks
Make something inside me sting
That’s what it is.
I know he feels it too.
You think it’s just a feeling –
But you must be wearing it like a cloak, or maybe a sandwich sign, hung over your neck.
You can see the look on their faces.
Usually the eyes shift – first down, then away.
“Your time will come.”
“Just have faith, you’ll have one of your own someday.”
“Once you stop worrying about it, that’s when it will happen.”
“There’s still time.” (that’s probably the least believable)
They mean well.
But you can tell they’re willing even themselves to believe
what they’re saying.
It’s no wonder Zechariah is losing hope.
Or has he lost it?
I don’t know.
I have moments of hopelessness too.
But I still want so badly to believe.
God, we’ve done everything right.
Why aren’t we getting pregnant??
The sanctuary thing is a good distraction
— a once in a lifetime opportunity, really.
And I know superstition is wrong but all I can think is –
if he was lucky enough to be drawn in the lots
maybe we’ll be lucky enough to…
I mean, what are the odds?
Aren’t good things supposed to come in threes?
That leaves two more as far as I can count…
O God, forgive me.
My hope is giving way to wishful thinking.
But I think I can hold onto it –
my hope, that is —
a little longer.
I pray that when he goes into your sanctuary, when he strikes the incense and the thick aroma start to fill the air, you will meet him there. God, give my husband hope again. Yes, that’s my prayer tonight. Not for the one in a million odds. Simply for a partner to hope alongside me. May he shed the weight of skepticism that has been put on like layers of armor over these long years and in your sanctum find the faith to hope with me again.
By Rev. Emily Wilton
For Pondering & Prayer
Today’s reflection is a poem written in the point of view of Elizabeth. When your read this story about Zechariah and Elizabeth, is there anyone you identify with? Why? Who might you want to identify with?
Prayer: Holy God, be with each of us in whatever it is that drains us of hope. Nurture our souls to never stop looking up towards You. Amen.
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