Scripture: Luke 1:67-79
Patience is hard. As the parent of two kids, I absolutely know that we are not born with the ability to be patient. We have to learn the skill, and it is a brutally hard skill to learn. On one level we know that patience is a good thing, but in the land of instant gratification it is hard to remember that good things come to those who wait. I think today it is even harder than it used to be. As a society we have gotten more and more efficient which is great, but the downside is that we are less patient. For example, during this service if you have smart phone you could buy literally anything on Amazon, and it is possible to have it show up at your house by Tuesday! We have the ability to cook just about any food in the microwave, in a manner of minutes, and we still end up tapping our foot because it is taking too long. Not everything worth getting in life happens instantly though. Sometimes we have to wait and be patient, and sometimes we have to wait a lot longer than we ever thought we would. Boris and Anna Kozlov know a little something about that. When they were both young the two fell in love and were married in 1946. Boris was in the Red Army, and he was deployed three days later. He knew that he would have to wait to see his newlywed bride again, but at the time he did not realize that he would have to wait sixty years. This was during the time of Stalinist Russia, and because of the political leaning of Anna’s father her family was caught up in a purge and forcibly exiled to Siberia. When Boris returned he was heartbroken that he could not find his wife anywhere. Both heart broken, they went on and lived out their lives. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Anna was able to return to her home village, and then in 2006 Boris came back to visit the grave of his parents. As they tell the story, he stepped out of the car right as Anna was coming down the street by chance. They saw each other and despite the decades instantly recognized one another. Anna was crying tears of joy and Boris told her, “I’ve been waiting for you so long, my wife, my life.” They stayed up that entire night catching up on sixty years of lost time, and they shortly remarried to live happily ever after. It is wonderful that their story has a fairy tale ending, but I imagine around 1950 neither one ever thought they would ever be reunited. In hindsight we can often tell that patience was rewarded and that the wait was worth it.
That does not change the fact that we are impatient, that we do not like waiting, and that we want to do things on our timing only. When it comes to living faithful lives of following God, our impatience can often be a hindrance. Our ways are not God’s ways, and our timing is almost never God’s timing. This means that when God is prompting us to wait, we usually go. When God is urging us to go, we decide to be reserved and wait. More often than not we fail to trust in God’s plans and rely on God’s timing. This morning’s scripture, which records the song of Zechariah, is a reminder that even when we do not follow God like we should, God is never going to give us up, never going to let us down, and never going to desert us.
Zechariah’s story is an often forgotten part of the Christmas story. He does not show up at the manger or anything, but he is part of the prelude that leads up to the big night. Zechariah is the father of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. And he is the very first person we are introduced to in the gospel of Luke. Luke records that Zechariah was a priest of the God. He has and his wife Elizabeth “were righteous in the sight of God, observing all of the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Despite this, they had a black mark against them which is they were childless, which was viewed as a judgement from God and was a societal disgrace. The priests took turns, a week at a time, serving in the temple. One of the weeks when it was Zechariah’s turn he was given one of the most special assignments. In the temple there was the “most holy place” this was a room sequestered off and dedicated to God. It was thought to be the place where God was most present in the world. Zechariah’s job was to keep the incense on the altar of the holies of holies burning. On one fateful day he went to go and do this task and he was met by the angel Gabriel who delivered wonderful news. Luke 1:13-15 records, “Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”
Imagine if you were Zechariah. Imagine if you were in his shoes. An angel appears to you and tells you that deepest, greatest, and most desperate prayer for your heart are going to be answered. Not only are they going to be answered, but they are going to be answered in a way far greater than you could ever imagine. If that was you, how would you respond? What would your reaction to be? If we are being honest with ourselves, many of us would probably have the same reaction that Zechariah had. He doubted. Luke 1:18 records, “Zechariah asked the angel, “how can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” On one hand, we have to be like “are you kidding me?” It is an angel, standing right in front of you! Of course you can be sure! On the other hand though, how many years had Zechariah and Elizabeth tried to conceive. How many month after month of disappointment did they have to endure? At some point hope begins to flicker out. When dreams die, it takes a miracle to resurrect them. The promise of a miracle is not quite the same thing though, so if we were in Zechariah’s shoes we also might doubt.
Unfortunately, Zechariah’s troubles are just beginning. There is a consequence for doubting for him, and he is rendered mute according to Gabriel “until the day this happens . . .at their appointed time.” Elizabeth does become pregnant, but the entire time Zechariah is unable to speak. Again, can you imagine how Zechariah must have felt? Can you imagine the emotions that must have been swirling around him? The fear and confusion? Can you imagine how many uncertain he must have been? He did not know if the child would be born healthy, he did not know if the words would come true, he did not know if his voice would be lost forever. Yet, despite all of this uncertainty, there was probably a sense of hope, as the candle had been relit. Perhaps each day the baby got closer to term, the feeling of hope grew.
The day came, the child was born, and finally Zechariah was able to speak as he faithfully fulfilled what the angel had said. Zechariah spoke up to say the child’s name is John. After his voice returned, he prophesied this morning’s scripture. In this morning’s scripture, Zechariah does two things. First he remembers God’s faithfulness. He praised God because God faithfully showed mercy to the ancestors and remembers the Holy Covenant of Abraham. The first part of Zechariah’s song remembers God’s faithfulness in the past as a reminder that God is still faithful in the present. In the second part, Zechariah proclaims how God has been faithful to him. He reiterates the message of Gabriel, that his son, who would grow to be John the Baptist, will be called prophet of the Most High and prepare the way for him.
The story of Zechariah is not part of the traditional Christmas story, but it is one that we need to be reminded of during Advent as we lead up to Christmas. It is doing this time that we remember and celebrate the reality that God is with us. The story of Zechariah reminds us that God is faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to God. It reminds us that when we listen to ourselves and not God, God is still with us. It reminds us that when we dig in our heels and refuse to listen, God is still with us. This story reminds us that even if we are not the best believers we can be, God is still the best God he can be. It reminds us that God will still redeem, God Will rescue, God will still show mercy, and God will still save.
We need to be reminded of this because like Zechariah, we all go through dark times of uncertainty. We all go through times where we do not know how everything is going to settle. We go through times where we cannot find sense or reason. Like Zechariah, we go through times where are doubts seem bigger than hopes. It is during those times, we need to know to God is with us.
In the realm of nature, one of the animals that is the caring and protective mother is the eagle. A mother eagle will take on all comers to protect their young, and they provide for all of their needs as they hover over the nest. When the time comes though, do you know how the mother eagle teaches her chicks to fly? She pushes them out the nest. The baby falls and flails, and before it reaches certain doom the mother swoops down and lovingly saves the baby from destruction. The mother then flies up as high as she can go and let’s go. Again, the baby falls and flails, the mother will once again swoop down and save the baby. This continues until the baby eagle learns to fly. This is really the only way to learn to fly, and the mother knows that dropping its child from dozens of feet in the air is best for it. The baby eagle can fully trust in the mother, but that does not mean those times in free fall are not terrifying. Yet the baby eagle can trust the mother is there to catch it.
In a lot of ways this is how it is God. We can always count on God to catch us. Sometimes we are falling because of our own bad decisions, sometimes we are falling because God needed to give us a little push, and sometimes we are falling because life can be unfair. No matter what though, we can have confidence that God is not going to give up on us. We might fall, but we will never hit bottom because we can trust God to catch us.
If you are like Zechariah, and your hope is not burning as brightly as it used to, then do not despair. If you are like Zechariah, and you are quicker to doubt than to trust, then do not despair. If today you feel like you are falling, then do not despair. It may not be on your timing, it may require more patience than you want to have, but God is not going to give you up, God is not going to let you fall, and God is not going to desert you. May you know, and may you claim deep in your heart that God is with us. In the midst of lives trials and hardships may that be the knowledge that sustains you when you feel like you are falling and may you trust in him to lift you up as if on the wings of the eagle.