This week our devotions will focus on what we call the Christmas Story. It is found in Luke 1:5-2:22.
Ask God to orient or reorient you to Himself. Confess any known sin. Thank Him for His forgiveness. Be still and reflect on Jesus and His sacrifice for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to God’s Word. Pray for others in your life that they, too, would know and love God today.
“5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 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.’ 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.’ 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’”
The Old Testament ends with a prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Then, there was silence. For 400 years God’s people would wait for God to speak to them again, for God to deliver them, for “the Elijah” who was to come.
The Book of Luke begins by telling us how the 400 years of silence was broken. He shares the story of the birth of John the Baptist, the one who God used to fulfill the prophecy spoken in Malachi.
John’s parents are Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah is a priest whose division was on duty at the temple when he encountered an angel. Both he and Elizabeth were considered “righteous in God’s sight,” which meant they were both careful to observe the Old Testament scriptures. They were also childless; all hope of having a child was long past.
It’s interesting that Luke describes them as righteous; in Jewish tradition, barrenness was seen as a judgment for sin. If you had no children, then you must be living in sin. In fact, some would have wondered why Zechariah stayed with Elizabeth, insisting that Zechariah divorce her and get a wife that could give him a child, preferably a male. Both were probably sixty or older; they had likely grown accustomed to the whispers and accusations.
Zechariah was chosen by lot to burn the incense in the temple. As many as 18,000 priests made up Zechariah’s division; his selection would have been a once in a lifetime chance of happening, and he was chosen for this special event. What seemed like randomness was actually God working in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s lives.
While Zechariah performed his duties, the unbelievable happened; an angel of the Lord appeared before him. This hadn’t happened to any of his contemporaries; it completely terrified him.
The angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child; this child would be a joy and a delight, would bring many people back to the Lord, and the spirit of Elijah would be upon him. What was Zechariah’s response to this message? Doubt. How could this happen? He and Elizabeth had passed the age of having children; he simply could not see it happening. Sometimes even good people have doubts about God’s promises.
Zechariah’s doubt led the angel Gabriel to take away his ability to speak. In a sense, the angel told him, “Just be quiet for a while and watch God work.”
As the object of God’s personal concern, Elizabeth’s response was to rejoice. She didn’t react as a victim who was bitter at God for all the years she was childless; she seemed to have accepted her barrenness and served God faithfully. Now, He was giving her a very personal answer to her long-desired prayer.
What a great story! It seems unbelievable, yet it is true. It makes me wonder, “How many of us would have responded the same way as Zechariah?” It didn’t mean that he was unrighteous and had failed God because he expressed doubt. Zechariah’s doubt shows us how powerful our doubts can be at times and that regardless of what is going on around us, God’s word is true. We can count on it. The silencing of Zechariah is a major lesson for us to remember: God will bring His promises to pass.
We may not be visited by God in as dramatic a way as Zechariah, but we can know it is just as personal. Sometimes our best interactions with God come in real life situations as we experience things that drive us to Him and His promises.
Question for you to ponder: Is there any situation where God is telling you to, “Just be quiet for a while and watch Me work? Trust Me, I will do what I have promised.”
(Personalize this prayer today; make it specific to the circumstances that face you.)
Ask God to lead you through His Spirit as you go through your day. Ask Him to bring to mind the truth of the gospel and its implications for what you will encounter today. Tell Him “Yes” to His will and ask Him for His power and protection to live this “yes.” Ask God to create and reveal opportunities to proclaim the good news today. KEEP PRAYING THROUGHOUT YOUR DAY.