Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nine Silent Months, One Prophetic Song

Everywhere you look in the Christmas narratives you will find life-lessons for students of Jesus. The stories of Christmas are also the stuff of the Kingdom of God. For example, consider an out-of-the-way old man named Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. His story is also a part of the Christmas saga.
One day he goes to work, encounters an angel, and receives the best news of his life. But it’s too good to be true, so he’s not sure if he can trust his heart to happiness. He voiced his fears. The angel who delivered good news to him was mildly offended at Zechariah’s inability to enter into joy and hope. This angel--Gabriel--came straight from the presence of God, where the only news is good news. Gabriel’s response to fear and doubt is instructive: keep silent until the promise comes to pass. Gabriel gave Zechariah an assignment: keep silent for nine months and meditate on the work of God.
Nine months and eight days later, Zechariah’s voice returned. What would you say after nine months of meditating on the goodness of God? Zechariah’s first words are recoded in Luke 1: 67-80. This passage is a grand hymn to the faithfulness--and the purposes--of God.
Nine months of reflection. Nine months to consider the work of God. Nine months to travel from doubt to insight; from fear to hope. Consider the lessons of nine moths of prayer and reflection. They were not only lessons for Zechariah, they are questions for us:
  • Zechariah was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” His perspective had shifted from the everyday to the presence of God (v 67). The presence of God transforms the everyday into eternity. How would our lives change if eternity was constantly at hand?
  • The God of Israel is in the business of redemption, both personally and corporately (vs 68-71). Zechariah and Elizabeth were only aware of their own childless life. It was the extent of their vision. When the God of Heaven answered, he included this childless couple in the grand story of redemption. God not only answered their hearts’ cry, he drafted them into the plan. How cool is that?
  • God’s saving action demonstrates his faithfulness to all generations, from Abraham forward (vs 72-73). God sees all of humanity before him at any given moment. His actions today may bless us and keep promises made centuries ago. Have we realized his kindness today may also complete the hope of ages past?
  • The purpose of God’s saving action is so that we can “serve him without fear” (v74). This is the stuff of soaring sermons and exhortations. Even in our day God’s people find themselves hemmed in by fear: fear of man, fear of the future, fear of their own inadequacies. How would our lives be changed if we could live outside of the fears common to man? 
  • John the Baptist’s ministry was solely to prepare the way for another (v76). This view of ministry is fast fading from our communities. Many ministries faithfully serve others, but how many of us view ministry as releasing someone else to be the star?
  • Isaiah’s fingerprints are all over the Zechariah’s final words (vs 77-79). In his nine months of silence Zechariah was not alone with his own thoughts. His personal reflections were informed by the witness of scripture. What better way to interpret our own situation?
  • Finally, the baby was only eight days old. There was a lifetime to be lived; Zechariah’s work was just beginning (v80). When God’s promises come to pass we could be tempted to think of it as an ending. How many of us see the fulfillment of God’s promise as the beginning instead of the end?
Elizabeth’s child was not the only thing gestated during those nine months. Zechariah’s prophetic insight was birthed after it came to full term, and we are the better for it today.

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