Elizabeth and Zechariah had spent many tortuous hours in prayer for a child. As he served in the temple, and from time to time entered the inner space to offer prayers, Zechariah would have petitioned God with all his heart. Mindful of the birth of the people of Israel through Abraham and Sarah in their advanced years, they would have held on to hope, even in their advanced years. When the ballot falls once again to Zechariah to enter the temple to burn incense, still on his heart and in his mind echoed this desire. The appearance of the angel of the Lord in that setting, with the news that they would have a child, ought to have been a source for much rejoicing. After all these years, there comes not only an indication that God had heard these cries, but that he would grant them the very desire of their heart. But it was not so. Zechariahís disinclination to accept this message seems strange and out of place. Who would not welcome such news?
The line between belief and disbelief is an extremely thin one, often made more inflexible by our propensity to be locked into a certain way of thinking and acting. In spite of the prayers and desires of our hearts, we find it difficult to accept that there is another way of living, or to recognise the doorway into a new future when it opens to us. It is one thing to pray for something which is rooted deep in our hearts. It is an entirely different attitude to believe that God can indeed answer, and remain vigilant for the doorways of opportunity.
This Advent season reminds us that God comes to us in the midst of our struggles, our hopes, and our prayers. Into ordinary life, Godís presence breaks in, transforming present and future. While Zechariah continued his duties as a priest in the temple, God spoke decisively. It was so for Mary, and for Joseph. Transforming moments in personal history, and world history, birthed in the ordinary moments of work, sleep and play.
As we continue through this Advent season, we need to be prepared, not just for a new message, or a new hope, but perhaps the fulfillment of a deeply-felt prayer or hope. To be prepared for the coming of Christ into our lives is to be prepared for something radically new.
December 7, 2003