In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:5-25
Perhaps it’s been your prayers for your granddaughter who has gone so far away from you, your whole family, the church and God. You have prayed for years that she would return. There seems to be no answer. It might be relentless prayers for healing from a chronic illness you have had to endure. The tests results continue to come back positive – which is not good news; the disease lingers. It might be prayers for reconciliation, for a renewed marriage, for relief from constant criticism. The prayers continue but seem never to be heard.
Elizabeth knows such times of prayer. So does Zechariah. But God is seldom in a hurry, and never late. In this moment of Zechariah’s service of the temple, God sows up and announces that Elizabeth and Zechariah’s prayers have been heard. Furthermore the prayers have not only been heard, but they are being answered…in the affirmative. This old couple would have a son.
Two things seem important to me in this story:
- God’s answers to our prayers are seldom as simple and simplistic as we imagine. We think we just want the job, the child to respect us, the disease to go away. Those prayers impact others as well as ourselves: fellow employees, other family influences that need to be tested, doctors who need to discover just how graciously God answers prayer.
- There is always a bigger story playing out in the affairs of women and men. We might not recognize the ripples that undulate through the fabric of eternity as life unfolds all around us.
There is a bigger story playing out here. John’s birth is to be a signal for the world that the Christ was coming. God is unfolding a new chapter in the history of the universe. I wonder if Zechariah realized that as he listened to the angel Gabriel. I wonder how often we fail to see beyond the good fortune God brings into our lives. If we care only about the moments between the time our prayers are uttered and the time God actually seems to show up, we are very likely missing the whole point of his work in our lives.
I’m wondering just now about what God is unfolding around me as I wait for his answers to my prayers.