The Gospel writers Luke and Matthew recount five questions in the stories surrounding Christ’s birth. This Advent, we will study these questions which open the door to some of life’s great mysteries. What if we can truly satisfy our deepest longings? What if there is someone we can wholeheartedly believe in? What if suffering and tragedy aren’t just painful and meaningless experiences, but the raw material of a rich, beautiful, and well-lived life? What if we could face the future with the bright hope of real joy? What if the Christmas story really brought peace on earth and goodwill to all?
(Adapted from Five Questions of Christmas, pp. 6, 10-11)
This the question is, How Will I Know?
In this scripture passage, Zechariah has a big question for the angel: “How will I know this is true?” (Luke 1:18)
Both Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth came from priestly families, their faithfulness is mentioned, but also their childlessness. Elizabeth a relative of Mary, etc. Zechariah appears to be a country priest (not from Jerusalem, but the hill country) who would only go to the Temple when his division was on duty. This particular time, his name was drawn by lot to be the one who offered the incense offering.
Incense offerings represented prayers ascending to God, symbolically praying for the nation – people prayed outside while the priest went inside to make the offering. It was a holy moment, and one to be taken seriously.
Zechariah is in the midst of this extremely important assignment in the most sacred part of the temple. A crowd of people are praying and waiting outside. Suddenly an angel appears. Zechariah is absolutely terrified. After all, he knows the stories of priests who were struck dead for doing their job incorrectly (Leviticus 10, Numbers 16). But instead of judgement, the angel Gabriel delivers a special message from God.
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-17, NIV)
It was a truly unanticipated announcement. Although there was, as we have seen, precedent in earlier biblical stories for just this kind of miracle, there had been no prophets or prophesies for four hundred years.
Zechariah had no expectation of miraculous offspring. He and Elizabeth had prayed for children since they were newlyweds. Each month their hopes soared and then soured. Their youth and middle age were gone, and now it was too late. They were elderly and childless. Why would God answer their prayer with a miracle child now?
But this announcement is much bigger than Zechariah and Elizabeth. The angel said this miracle son would be a great prophet like Elijah who would prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah. That was even more unbelievable news! On that day Zechariah may have been afraid to get his hopes up. Maybe he couldn’t face another steep drop on his emotional roller coaster. Maybe he was afraid to believe his dream could come true. But Zechariah wasn’t prepared to trust his future or his hopes and dreams to anyone, not even an angel.
Given all this, Zechariah’s skepticism of both the messenger and the message seems warranted, even justified. The angel’s prediction impacted his own family and all the Jewish people. Surely Zechariah is allowed a moment of doubt or a question for clarification. Zechariah gathers his courage and finds his voice.
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20, NIV)
Think and reflect on a time when God surprised you with unanticipated news or changes.
In that situation, how was God faithful?
What did you learn about Him in the process?
What did you learn about yourself?
Devotions Adapted from the ADult MIssion Advancement Department’s Advent Resources