Luke 1: 5-22
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 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. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 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. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
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. 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.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
Our best guess is Zechariah had been faithfully ‘serving’ as a priest, day in day out, for many years … ‘righteous in the sight of God’ (6) … ‘observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly’ (6) … he was by now ‘very old’ (7). Let’s be honest, on the one hand we regard anyone described like this as a spiritual giant. How come, therefore, whenever Zechariah gets a mention it’s as an example of failure? It does sound like a punishment: ‘’you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words’ (20).
I was in Costa’s, talking with the woman serving me about ‘being ready for Christmas’. We didn’t have more than the time it took to prepare my flat white, my preferred morning coffee option right now, so neither of us really grasped where the other was coming from, but ‘very different places’ would be my gut reaction. Nonetheless, neither of us was ‘prepared’. Whilst her questions were all about presents, whatever it is that we need to prepare for involves doing something before the event. The habit we’re looking to develop is having a heart attitude of preparedness, and ‘service’ is one such practice which develops this. ‘Serving’ always arises from the heart … but if it doesn’t result in action, anyone observing us could reasonably question our heart attitude. In Zechariah’s case, on this occasion, he doesn’t seem to be quite as well prepared as … well, me!
I wonder if this Advent you need an audit of your life through the lens of ‘service’? I’m not talking about taking on another role in the church, or adding another job to your ‘to-do’ list, but taking another look at the whole of life through this lens.
Zechariah happened to be a priest, but this still left him unprepared – are you open to today’s surprise from God?
Where in your life do you tend towards keeping out the possibility of serving God? Is it an aspect of your employment, a key relationship, an area of your heart?
Zechariah did not instantly ‘believe’ what God was speaking to him, but he did not give up serving the Lord with all his heart … is there any area in our lives where we might be stepping back from wholeheartedness?
Dear Lord, I want to offer my whole life as an offering to you this day. Help me to be a living sacrifice, so I might become more distinctly seen as your follower in my attitudes and actions. I especially pray for those I shall meet today … may I look for where you might be at work in their lives, so mine might be an encouragement for all to take another step closer to you and hopefully with you. Amen.