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)

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. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 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.


“How will I know that this is so?”

Having been raised in a household that celebrated the ambiguity of life, I have always been a questioner. Questions really frame my life, and in many ways they form the foundation of my relationship with God. Growing up, I was prone to ask “why?” as often as any kid (perhaps more often), and my parents welcomed my inquisitive nature… to a point.

The boundary came when my dad was teaching me to drive, and on one such occasion he must have instructed me to brake or turn (or something, I no longer recall what), and I asked “Why?” To which my father responded, with sudden and surprising firmness: “DO NOT ASK ‘WHY’ WHILE WE ARE DRIVING!” His point was clear—in that setting, a discussion was neither safe nor wise.

In a similar fashion, when Zechariah asks Gabriel “How will I know that this is so?,” the old priest gets a time-out, a season of silence. I feel the abruptness of the moment, and how what seemed like a reasonable question led to an unexpected rebuff.

And so Zechariah must sit with  his question. And sit, and sit, in silence, as the months pass.

When he finally is able to speak again, he opens his mouth, and sings! It is a song of wonder and awe, of gratitude and humility. Instead of an answer, he is given a song!

By the Rev. Shawn Callender Hogan

For Pondering & Prayer

What question is yours in this season? How long have you been sitting with your question? As you sit with your question, is there a song stirring within?

Prayer: God, we trust that the questions we ask provide our pathways to you and to our calling as Christians. Help us not to despair in our questions, but to use them as opportunities to grow in our faith. We pray in Christ’s name, amen.