What’s the first thing that comes into your mind on 1 December? For a lot of people, Christians or not, it might be opening the first door of the Advent calendar. Can you believe I forgot it was Advent today until I came home from church and looked at my E-mails? Advent – a season of preparation, so let’s prepare for Christmas.
A little while ago I thought wouldn’t it be nice, for the next few Sundays, to think about the Christmas story. I want to start with a part I never knew existed before I was a Christian. Do you remember when the angel Gabriel talks to Mary, he says her relative Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy? Well, skip back six months and go into the temple with Zechariah the priest. He’d been chosen to perform a special service for the LORD and was carrying out his duty, but as ever, God was more interested in the person than the performance. He sent the angel Gabriel to say: “Zechariah, don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you will name him John” – Luke 1:13.
Maybe that sounds like nothing unusual, but Elizabeth had never been able to conceive and was now well past childbearing age. Presumably she and her husband had prayed for a child throughout their married life, and now God was saying through the angel: “I’ve answered your prayer! A baby’s on the way!”
The angel went into much more detail about what John would be like and how he would help bring many people back to God, but instead of celebrating, Zechariah said: “How can I know that what you say is true? I am an old man, and my wife is old, too” – Luke 1:18.
You know when you ask a question? You can ask out of genuine curiosity, or you can ask contemptuously – because you don’t really believe what you’re being told. Zechariah asked in unbelief and this is the response he got. “I am Gabriel. I stand before God, who sent me to talk to you and to tell you this good news. Now, listen! You will not be able to speak until the day these things happen, because you did not believe what I told you” – Luke 1:19-20. Wow!
I’m sure if I had sat in church as a kid and heard about someone being struck dumb because they didn’t believe what they were told, it would have stuck in my memory – well, let it stick in yours because God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He’s still the all-powerful, not-to-be-messed-with God, who still challenges us to pray to Him and trust Him for the impossible.