You guys, let me tell you how creepy God is. I know this sounds super-duper blasphemous, but I swear its only a little bit blasphemous. I have been paging through the Bible with "waiting" on my radar. And since this IS Christmas & Advent & all that I figured I would take a gander at all the people involved in the Christmas story to see if any of them had anything to say about waiting (spoiler alert: they totally do). Anyways, I started reading about Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth-Jesus' Uncle and Aunt. They have always intrigued me and now even more so since looking at them through this new lens of waiting & weariness. I was getting further aquainted with their story on my own and then they popped up in my Bible study reading too. Creepy God stuff. I mean its not quite to "the call is coming from inside the house" level. So,I guess God is actually more cool & sovereign than creepy, but whatever you call it, it made me take even closer notice of these characters in Jesus' story.
Quick run down of Zechariah and Elizabeth- In Luke 1:6-7 it says of Zechariah and Elizabeth that "they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years". Yet we know them now as the parents of John the Baptist: Jesus' eccentric, fur wearin', honey comb lovin', Messiah preachin' cousin.
You can read for yourself the full account in Luke 1, of how Zechariah went to perform his priestly duties when an angel came to tell him that his prayers had been answered & that he and his wife were going to have a baby (and not just any old angel, no second stringers here. God sent his team captain Gabriel to deliver this message.). Gabriel told Zechariah the baby's name, because turns out the trend in Bible time was that if you miraculously conceived after a visit from an angel or from God himself, God got to name the baby, not you. No surfing nameberry.com. And although that would take some of the fun out of it for me, nobody in the Bible seemed to mind too much. So, the baby's name was John. And God had plans for John. Gabriel told Zechariah that John was going to bring lots of people "joy and gladness" (vs 14) and that he had a big job (no time for spending his twenties living in his parents' basement trying to "find himself"). John's job was to "turn many of the children of Isreal to the Lord their God" (vs 16). After all this amazingness: being visited by the captain of the angel team, hearing he was going to have a baby when he was "advanced in years" (aka super old), and hearing the amazing plans that God had for this baby, Zechariah finally had a turn to speak. And what did he say? (If I am being honest, he said what I am pretty sure I would say too). Verse 18 says "And Zechariah said to the angel, ' how shall I know all this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years'." (isn't Zechariah sweet and funny to describe Elizabeth that way after he calls himself old? That one gets me every time.)
Zechariah questioned God's plan. I am not sure what was going on in his heart when he questioned the plan. Maybe he was having doubt in himself. Maybe it just all seemed too good to be true. Whatever he was thinking and feeling, I have to think that at least some of what he said was coming from a place of distrust in God, otherwise I don't think God would have handled Zechariah the way he did in the following verses. Gabriel handed down a bit of discipline for Zechariah and his weak, doubting heart. Zechariah was made mute, unable to speak, until after the baby was born. Now, I don't know about you, but I have always thought this was an excrutiating punishment. And to be honest, it always seemed a little unfair to me.
Zechariah had walked a long road, one marked with one disappointment after another. He had every reason to have all but given up on the desire of his heart-a child, tangible evidence of he and Elizabeth's love and God's faithfulness, the continuation of his name and legacy. Yet in all his waiting & disappointment & weariness he had remained faithful & obedient. To me I kind of beg pardon of God on why He didn't offer a bit of leniency here, considering Zechariah's long record of righteousness. And to not be able to speak? Especially at a time like this? Ouch!
Just as it seemed the wait for a child was over, Zechariah began a new "wait". And while it may seem harsh, I have come to see God's act of discipline of Zechariah as being actually quite gracious. Instead of smiting him, instead of interrupting Gabriel's message to send him onto another more deserving man to serve as uncle of his Son, God chose to use Zechariah anyway. (And isn't is amazingly reassuring that God still makes it a regular habit to use weak, weary and wanting people? It's kind of His jam.) Zechariah would still be a witness and a servant to the working of God in his life, now in this new period of waiting. I can only imagine the depth of the prayerful conversations Zechariah and God must have had in those 9 months. Oh, the things God must have revealed to Zechariah's heart. And yet, he had to remain silent. He had to keep his witness to himself until after John was born. What began as a discipline quite possibly became the time of greatest spiritual growth in Zechariah's life. God was preparing him, grooming him in the wait. After all, Zechariah was going to be the father of John the Baptist, and that is no small role.
When Elizabeth found out the news in verses 24-25 it says that "for five months she kept herself hidden, saying 'Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people'". Elizabeth chose to do herself, what God enacted on Zechariah- take time to privatly prepare & commune with God, to sort all this wonder out before God and to come before him in worship. It says in verse 6 that Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous "before God", meaning to me that they were quietly faithful & intimate in their relationship with their Heavenly Father. I don't want to assume too much, or read too much into this scripture. But I wonder, if in his infinite love & wisdom, if God disciplining Zechariah was so that Zechariah would continue to dwell close to God and sort out his doubts not in the public forum but right where they need to be sorted out: "before God", in communion with him.
Recently in my own life I have felt disciplined by God. I mentioned before in an earlier post that I can relate to the cut off stump of Jesse from Isaiah 11. During this time of discipline, I have entered a new time of waiting on God-much like Zechariah. I know God "disciplines those He loves" (Hebrews 12:6), so while it is humbling, I take it as what it is: God's love & grace in action in my life. Yet, I was telling some friends the other day, I am feeling a bit like my kids as they sit in timeout. "Caaan I cooommee ouuutt yeettt?" "Is it over yet?" "I promise I will do better!" It can be tempting to question God, or to become impatient or even at times indignant during this time of discipline & waiting. But because I trust in His love & wisdom, I am accepting this time of discipline and of letting Him do His work in me during the waiting. I am choosing view this waiting time not as a hindrance or a roadblock to slow me down or keep me from where I want to be. Instead I see it as part of my path- necessary part, a good part even- that is actually helping me get where God wants me to be, which is ultimately where I want to be anyway.
I am not saying, by any means, that every time of waiting on God comes from an act of discipline. In fact, in Zechariah's own story Luke is careful to reveal to us that Elizabeth's barreness is not a result of sin or an act of discipline. Zechariah and Elizabeth waited for a child for years, faithfully serving God. That long wait was to prepare them to be the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah's new time of waiting, his muteness, was a result of discipline. But it was grace, just the same.
In Isaiah 43: 14-17 we see the Isrealites enduring discipline, in the form of exile. Then in verses 18-19 God speaks through Isaiah in some of my favorite verses in the entire Bible.
"Remember not the former things,\
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert."
These words speak such hope to my weary heart in the midst of this time of discipline & waiting. I have read them over and over again. I have prayed them over my life & the lives of those I love. Yet, just today as I drove and mulled these verses over in my head again, I appreciated something else about them. It doesn't say "I will do a new thing". It says "I am doing a new thing". And God asks "can't you see it?". It made me think, maybe this message of hope isn't for some future day on the horizon. Maybe it is hope for right now in the waiting. God is doing a new thing, right now. Am I missing it? Oh Lord, cure my blindness even though I have eyes, and my deafness even though I have ears, that I may perceive your work here!
What about you? Are you in a time of waiting? Are you like me and Zechariah, enduring a season of discipline? Is this waiting a time for you to act out your faith "before God" as Zechariah and Elizabeth did?Through his discipline God drew Zechariah to himself, he cured his doubt, affirmed his faith and did a mighty work in Zechariah's heart. Through the waiting- the silent, lonely waiting. We know this because at the end of the 9 months, when Zechariah's muteness was lifted it says "he spoke, blessing God" (vs 64). Luke 1: 68-79 is Zechariah's prophecy direct from the Holy Spirit.
Where is your wilderness right now? Are you feeling lost in the midst of it? Fearful? Can you not see out past all the trees? Are they clouding your view of Truth? Are you in a desert? Are you so parched that you can barely muster another step? Are you afraid you will die here? Thirsty, desperate and alone? What do you need to forget in order to move forward?
You guys, I so get it. Me too. You aren't alone. And not just because measly me gets it. You are not alone because God gets it and He is there. Let's take him at his word. Let's pray to see the way in the wilderness and not overlook the river in the desert as Hagar nearly did in Genesis 21. I pray that God will open our eyes as He did Hagar's to see the water He gives us in our deserts, rivers even.
And you guys, do you know what I love? The poetic (some may say creepy) nature of God, as it comes full circle. Listen to the words of John the Baptist- Zechariah's son- fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah:
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness;
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low
and the crooked shall become straight
and the rough places shall become level ways
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God".
Yes, Lord. Let it be so. In me. In this waiting. This. This is the hope of Christmas.
Check out the last two posts on waiting here and here . And stay tuned because in less than a week, on December 15th, a new name & blog design are launching, along with a giveaway! Get excited!