December 2 – Zechariah

Photo by Maria Krisanova on Unsplash

Today’s devotion is a little longer since I’ve included the entire account of Zechariah’s experience. Don’t worry – it’s worth it.

Sometimes God shuts you up. Other times God opens your mouth. Today’s Advent personality, Zechariah, had both of those experiences. Zechariah couldn’t tell anyone about his encounter with an angel in the temple of God. Zechariah didn’t believe Gabriel’s announcement that he was going to be a father, so he would be silent and unable to speak until it happened. But when it happened, Zechariah spoke powerfully about his son, his God, and the dawn of a new day filled with forgiveness, life and salvation. Solomon was right, there is both “a time to keep silence and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). 

Listen to the whole story as Luke tells it:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.   Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”   And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. (Luke 1:5-22)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. (Luke 1:57-64)

Filled with the Holy Spirit [Zechariah] prophesied, saying,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on highto give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)

There are times when all of us need to just shut up and listen! When we open our mouths too soon, fear, doubt and disbelief spill out. “How can that be?” “How do you know?” “How can I be sure?” If we prematurely speak, we dishonor God, His Word and His messengers. For nine silent months, Zechariah saw the life-giving power of God in his wife’s baby bump. Though he could not speak them, the words of the prophets jumped off dusty scrolls and came to life in his own home. In the silence, the cries of his newborn son John would take away any doubt that the Lord had indeed stopped by for a visit!

Once in a while, just listen. Don’t say a word. Like Zechariah, it might just be the best thing you could do for your faith!

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise!” (Psalm 51:15) Amen.

One for the road

37581614450_67a10e6b47_o (1)“I swear, that is the last time I’m letting you go in the store. I mean, how hard is it to pick up a half-gallon of skim milk?”

Neither one spoke a word till they were almost home. But she just couldn’t do it. Even though it was under her breath, she just had to say it, “You are so stupid.”

Reaching into the back seat, he grabbed the plastic shopping bag with the milk and rolled down his window.

“Now what are you doing?”

Without a word, he simply flung the jug out the window onto the street.

Why else would a jug of milk be lying on the side of a busy street? 

 

Sounds of heaven

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Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

A couple of days ago I waded into the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. From previous readings, I knew there would be much I wouldn’t understand. But as always happens, something would capture my imagination. Something would resonate.

In the very first chapter, Ezekiel’s visions include creatures with faces and wings within earshot of the voice of God. “As they flew, their wings sounded to me like waves crashing against the shore” (Ezekiel 1:24 NLT). I’ve heard that sound lots of times. Could it mean that  I’ve heard some of the sounds of heaven?

That would be awesome. Heaven always seems so far away, so remote, so distant. Yet if some of its sounds echo in our world, it might not be so far away after all. Are there any other sounds? Sure there are: thunder, a mighty rushing wind, a river, silence. Those are some that immediately come to mind. I’m sure there are more. I’ve heard all these. I’ve heard the sounds of heaven.

Maybe we should spend more time just listening.

The room suddenly got very quiet.

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(Not our club, just a random pic)

Last Monday afternoon’s Good News Club was, let’s say, “spirited.” Anytime you get within spitting distance of Christmas, there will be a surplus of kid energy filling any size room. It was review week, which brings out the highly competitive side of the group as well.

So we reviewed our bible stories from the last five week: Jesus turning water into wine, meeting with Nicodemus, talking to a woman by a well, healing a nobleman’s child and restoring sight to a blind man. I am always impressed at how much they remember, because sometimes it doesn’t seem like anyone is paying attention at all.

Then, after a few songs, the room suddenly got quiet. I know, I was shocked, too, as well as the rest of our team. Review weeks include a Gospel spotlight, and the room-hushing moment was when I told them that God knows everything about them, including all the bad things. We’ve told them that before. Plenty of times. As a group and individually. Maybe some secular holiday influence helped me out here. I don’t know. All I know is that you could her a pin drop, and that never, ever happens in our club.

“God knows everything about you. He knows everything you’ve ever done.” The look on the their eyes and the silent words on their lips said, “What? Are you kidding?” More than a few adults react the same way.

“Even all the bad things…” When the Law does its work, it is a powerful moment because it sets up the Gospel so perfectly. “But he still loves you.” How do I know? It says right here “God so loved the world…” And there’s that powerful and humbling moment when you get to talk about Jesus.

Your experience may be different, but those moments don’t come around very often for me. The story is more often punctuated by “Hey, zip up” and “Is anybody sitting up?” “No, you can’t have more candy,” and “No, it’s not time to go home yet.” When those moments do happen, I know it’s the Holy Spirit at work. No doubt in my mind. I’ve proven that I can’t make it happen, so I’ll gladly give Him all the credit. And I’ll always be thankful that I can be there to see those moments happen.

Next week I’ll be teaching the Christmas story. I’ll let you know what happens.