Monday, June 22, 2015
A question of timing (Elizabeth)
Looking down at the hands in her lap, the woman contemplated the prominent veins, the callouses, and the tiny scars that spoke of years of work. She spread those hands over her rounded belly and smiled, inwardly, reveling in the fact that after almost forty years of prayer, dashed hopes, and catty remarks from the other women, a wee babe was growing there.
Zechariah, sitting beside her outside their little home, glanced over at her and smiled. Always quiet, he'd been unable to even speak since the day of The Event. She always thought of it that way. What a startling, unbelievable story he had written when he came home from the temple six months ago!
As a daughter of the priestly tribe, the Levites, she was well aware of the duties and responsibilities of a wife when she and Zechariah met. Their parents had arranged the marriage, and they'd first laid eyes on each other about a week before the ceremony. Luckily for them, the attraction was instant, and they'd been happily in love for all these years. But the Lord God had not blessed their union with children. Oh, how they'd hoped and prayed. How she had examined her own heart for sin, and Zechariah had joined her in penitence and sacrifice. But years had gone by. Years marked by sly glances from the neighbor women who seemed to get pregnant so easily. Years of "maybe there is some sin you have not yet repented of." Years of feeling a little ashamed that there were not little feet tripping through the house, and no childish peals of laughter heard there.
But then The Event happened. Zechariah had been at the temple, as his branch of the family's allotted time came up on the temple schedule. And lo and behold! News had come back to her in the village, that he'd been chosen to offer incense in the Holy place. A once in a lifetime honor!
The incense was offered daily; it was done before the morning sacrifice and after the evening one. The priests on duty drew lots to see which ministries they would perform -- some would never be chosen to offer incense, and no one was permitted to do it more than once. As the sacrificed animal burned outside, the chosen priest would pour incense over a live coal on the altar of the Holy place. Then, as the smoke billowed upward, he would pray a prayer for the blessing and the redemption of Israel -- a prayer that would plead for the Messiah to come.
Zechariah had written down for her to read, what happened next: an angel had appeared! To say that Zechariah was frightened was putting it mildly! His knees and had been knocking against each other, and his face was so, so pale. His heart was pounding as he listened to what the angel said.
Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your
wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the
name 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. (Luke 1:13-17)
Not only had his prayer moments before been heard, but all of the prayers for all those years. You see, Luke also noted that these two were exemplary people: Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. (Luke 1:6) So the angel was saying that all of your prayers have been heard, Zechariah!
Zechariah was ecstatic! He began to joyfully clap his hands and praise God . . . but as his eyes fell on his "old man hands" he allowed a doubt to creep into his mind. Oh, how Elizabeth wished he'd not done that! He had asked the angel HOW this could be, for he and his wife were getting on in years. What an important slip of faith . . .
He was questioning God's ability to do what He said. The angel then spoke these words to him:
The angel answered, "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 proper time. (verse 20)
At their proper time.
Remember that, OK?
We'll continue our story next time; it's familiar, I'm sure, but I hope we will find fresh applications for our own lives.
Join me next time, won't you?