Thursday, March 26, 2015

That's What Christmas is All About

We're getting ready for Christmas. Or, we're procrastinating. Either way, it's still coming soon. Twenty­ four-hour holiday music is on the radio and 25 days of Christmas movies are on the ABC Family channel. A favorite television special of mine is "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  Even without a visual, there's no mistaking the sound of Linus' voice reciting from the gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, about the birth of Jesus.

I, however, am particularly intrigued by Luke Chapter 1, which reveals the connection between Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus with Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the birth of John (the Baptist.) It prepares the way for what happens in subsequent chapters. 

Zechariah was a priest who had grown up in a family of priests. His wife Elizabeth was also from a family of priests. The early years of their marriage were filled with hope and prayers for children that were never fulfilled. They were both old now and had likely given up on the dream of having children years before, but they both continued to serve God, as Luke describes it, blamelessly.

The temple in Jerusalem was served by priests from several families. When the rotation came around to Zechariah's family, the lot fell on him to go into the temple's inner sanctum to perform the incense offering.

He went into the priests-only portion of the temple and was greeted by none other than the angel Gabriel. Gabriel had a personal message from God specifically for Zechariah. The message:  Your prayer has been heard.

Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son named John who would be a joy and delight to them. I take that to mean that Gabriel was referring to Zechariah's prayer for children.

Zechariah responded with doubt and commented on his and Elizabeth's old age. Based on that response, I gather that it had been a very long time since he had actually prayed for children of his own.

Gabriel answered back, calling Zechariah out for not believing God would answer his prayer. His lack of faith would cost him and he wouldn't be able to speak audibly until after the son he was promised was born.

Meeting Gabriel was the most significant event of his entire life as a priest, but now he wasn't able to tell anybody about it. He also wasn't able to tell Elizabeth specifically what Gabriel had to say.

I imagine that if it had been a long time since he had prayed for children, maybe it had been a while since he had done anything else about it either. Without using words, how was he to tell Elizabeth that she was going to get pregnant?

I think instead of telling her, he had to show her. He showed her in the most intimate way that a husband can communicate to his wife. The old folks were suddenly newlyweds again. It was a day of miracles all around.

After their son was born, Zechariah, still not speaking, wrote, "His name is John." Immediately, his voice returned and his first words were praises to God. He addressed  his newborn and told him that he would go on to prepare the way for the Lord, repeating words he'd heard Gabriel say just months earlier.

Zechariah lost his voice temporarily but that did not relieve him of responsibility for his part in making the message from God a reality. He had something that needed to be done in spite of his limitations.

John was given a voice and a message even before he was born. However, his time was limited. When Jesus showed up for ministry, John's main task of telling people to get ready was pretty much complete.

The Old Testament scriptures promised a Messiah and one was delivered. The New Testament scriptures once again promise a Messiah. Jesus is coming again. Again, the time to prepare is limited. Speak the message  to those who aren't ready. If you can't speak, show them. Because that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

This was originally posted December 14, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website:

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