How strong is your faith? Is it strong enough to move mountains-whether those mountains be physical, psychological or emotional? Is your faith strong enough to sustain you through hard times, sad times, times when you feel that God hasn’t heard your prayers, is ignoring your prayers or is silent in his response to your prayers? Is it strong enough to keep you going even when you see others around you getting the things you desire?
Is your faith strong enough to keep you going even when you feel surrounded by darkness and that the light of Gods love and Gods grace cannot be immediately seen or felt.
These questions concerning faith come to mind when one reflects upon this morning’s Gospel lesson.
In this morning’s lesson we are introduced to two extraordinary individuals, Zachariah and Elizabeth. Zachariah, we are told is a priest, one of many thousands of priests who lived in the time of Jesus. His wife, Elizabeth, is also a member of a priestly lineage. Luke tells us that “both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord”.
Zachariah and Elizabeth were righteous before God. They were righteous by faith. They were in a right relationship with God. Zachariah and Elizabeth were righteous in their character. They were obedient to God’s word in their conduct and they were steadfast in their confession of faith. They lived a righteous and faithful life.
But, according to Luke “they had no children because Elizabeth was barren and both were getting along in years”.
Zachariah and Elizabeth had no children. For a Jewish couple to be childless was thought to be a sign of God’s displeasure. Their lack of children was also exacerbated by their ages-they were pretty old according to this story.
We can be sure that they tried to conceive for many years. Having a child was probably on their minds all the time-pretty high up on their “to do” list. One can imagine that they prayed a great deal for conception-but their prayers went unanswered.
What do you do when your prayers go unanswered? What do you do when God remains silent to your entreaties? Do you get angry? Do you give up hope and become bitter? Do you turn away from God? Do you give up on prayer?
What did Zachariah and Elizabeth do? Z and E continued serving God-even in the silence. They remained steadfast in their faith and in their devotion to God. They continued to live righteous lives. They did not let their personal situation prevent them from loving and serving God. They had a faith which sustained them despite not having received an answer from God to their prayers for a child.
Luke tells us that Zachariah was chosen by lot to be the priest to offer insence in the most sacred part of the Temple. This was one of the highest honors a priest could attain. While performing this act, an angel of the Lord appears before Zachariah and tells him that Elizabeth will bear him a son who will be called Jon which means the favor or grace of Jehovah.
The angel also tells Zachariah that his son will be a blessing to many, and that he will be great in the sight of God in three ways:
First, he will be great in his personal connection to God-he will live an ascetic life (and forsake alcohol of any kind).
Second, he will be great in his spiritual endowment-he will be filled with the holy spirit even from the womb.
Finally, he will be great in his role as the forerunner to the messiah. He will bring many people into a right relationship with God through repentance.
The story of Zachariah and Elizabeth is one of great faith and hope. It shows us once again that God moves in his own time and in accordance with her own timetable. Zachariah and Elizabeth learned that God’s silence is not forever and they were faithful to God despite their personal circumstance. Their faith was rewarded not only with the promise of a child, but a child whose life and actions would change the lives of thousands and also prepare the way for one whose life, death,and resurrection would change the world.
The story of Advent is also a story of faith and hope. As we move further into this season of Advent, awaiting, preparing for, and yearning for the one whose arrival will bring the light of God’s love, grace, and compassion into a world filled with the darkness of despair, misunderstanding, and anguish, let us like Zachariah and Elizabeth hold fast to our faith and continue to serve knowing that the light of God’s love will surely come.