Last week, we spoke about the fact that God was silent with the people of Israel for 400 years. For 400 years, God did not speak through a prophet, priest, king, or angel. And then God broke his silence and spoke through the angel Gabriel to a priest named Zechariah while Zechariah was refreshing the incense in the holiest place of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The angel, Gabriel, revealed to Zechariah that the time had come for God to bring into this world the anointed messenger that God had promised. The anointed messenger was one who would be a servant and would establish a new covenant. And with that new covenant, God’s salvation plan would be given.
After 400 years of silence, God spoke to Zechariah. What a privileged experience for Zechariah. God, through the angel, said that Zechariah and his wife would have a baby named John, who would come in the power of the prophet Elijah and announce the presence of the anointed one of God on earth. But Zechariah’s unbelief changed that experience. Zechariah said to the angel, 18 “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). Zechariah spoke as though God did not know he and his wife, Elizabeth, and their age. God knew everything about Zechariah and Elizabeth as he does you and me. Zechariah’s question of God, “How can I be sure of this?” suggests that Zechariah may not know God as well as Zechariah thought he did. For God is faithful, true, and wise. Sometimes, when we pray, we may speak to God as though God does not know us, and we do not know God. I think this is one reason why Jesus would later tell his disciples to pray beginning this way, “Our Father...” The prayer Jesus taught us to pray reminds us that with God we are in an intimate father and child relationship. Before one word of adoration or petition is uttered we are acknowledging we know and are known. The words, “Our Father…” encourage us to fully enjoy and embrace the presence of God and thus shape every experience by sharing what we are going through with our father in heaven.
Zechariah misplaced his standing with God and the wonderful privilege to have God speak to him. And so, the angel Gabriel told Zechariah, “20 And now you [Zechariah] 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” (Luke 1:19-20). The angel left Zechariah in the silence of the Holy of Holies. I can imagine Zechariah calling out to the angel, “Wait come back!” only to be met with silence from his own mouth. Zechariah could hear just fine but he could no longer give voice to anything he had experienced or felt.
Luke said, “21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple” (Luke 1:21). Outside the temple, worshippers were praying and awaiting Zechariah’s return to them. That must have been quite the reunion. Luke said, “22 When he [Zechariah] came out, he [Zechariah] could not speak to them [the worshippers]. They [The worshippers] realized he [Zechariah] had seen a vision in the temple, for he [Zechariah] kept making signs to them [the worshippers] but remained unable to speak” (Luke 1:22). There is little doubt that when Zechariah returned the worshippers, fellow priests, and family knew something dramatic had happened. Zechariah, was fully able to hear the worshipper’s questions, but he could not tell them of the wonderful news. How different Zechariah’s reunion with those worshippers would have been had Zechariah believed the good news of the angel. Oh, how much joy there would have been in those conversations. Instead, Zechariah’s unbelief had brought silence to those hungry for good news. And so, it is with us. Our acts of unbelief, when we act contrary to God’s desire, we are then not able to share the good news of our experience with God. Our voices go silent as well. Unbelief robs us of what our experiences might have been.
Luke shared with us, “23 When his [Zechariah’s] time of service was completed, he [Zechariah] returned home. 24 After this his [Zechariah’s] wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months [she] remained in seclusion. 25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,” she [Elizabeth] said. “In these days he [God] has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people’” (Luke 1:23-25). Zechariah made his way home to be with his wife, Elizabeth, unable to share with her what had happened in the temple. Sometime later, a month, six months, or year later, we do not know, Elizabeth felt something within her change. Elizabeth had never felt these sensations before. Elizabeth felt was life within her. What she felt was not just life of a developing baby but also the presence of the Holy Spirit. How joyous a feeling it was to know that God had answered prayer and that the shame heaped upon her by her family and neighbors was lifted.
But. There is always a but. But rather than immediately share what she knew to be true with others, Elizabeth waited. Elizabeth knew what was true but her body would not show that truth for some time to come. Sharing her news now would only invite the scorn and ridicule of the unbelievers upon Elizabeth. And so, Elizabeth waited silently in seclusion until the time was right. Elizabeth was wise and showed us that sometimes we need to wait for the right moment to share the work the Holy Spirit is doing within us or through us. We need to take time of discernment before we speak into the unbelief of family and neighbors. And so, Elizabeth joined her husband, Zechariah, in the silence.
Meanwhile, God was prepared again to break His silence. Luke wrote, “26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27). The movement of God had shifted dramatically. God had first sent the angel Gabriel to an old man, Zechariah, to tell Zechariah that his prayer for a son had been answered. For years, Zechariah and Elizabeth had tried, hoped, and failed to have a child. The pregnancy of Elizabeth would remove the shame Elizabeth experienced from her family and neighbors.
Now, God had sent Gabriel to an engaged young woman, named Mary, who had never once had sexual relations. Here, God would announce to Mary she would become pregnant was well. Only for Mary to be pregnant now would bring shame upon her from her family and friends. The shift in scenery is breathtaking and shows us that God knows His people thoroughly.
Luke wrote, “28 The angel went to her [Mary] and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his [Gabriel’s] words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel [Gabriel] said to her [Mary], ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God’” (Luke 1:28-30). Gabriel approached Mary who was on her own, in her own silence. Gabriel began by inviting Mary, as he had with Zechariah, to reshape her experience with God. Gabriel said to Mary, “You are loved by God. Let go of your fear.” I think Gabriel’s words to Mary are words we all need to hear and follow. “You are loved by God. Let go of your fear.” The scene I see here for us is the angel is saying, “Let the presence and knowledge that God loves you overpower the grip you have on whatever is troubling you so that God can remove that fear from you and place His hand within yours. If we could do that, if we could allow God to remove our fears, God will reshape our life experiences in whys we just could not have imagined. “You are loved by God. Let go of your fear.”
Gabriel continued with Mary. “31 You [Mary] will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him [Jesus] the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). The first bit of news here for Mary was overwhelming. She would have a child, a boy, who would be a king, seated by God onto the throne of David. What a wonderful revelation for Mary to consider that someday she and Joseph would have a son who would grow up to be king. I am sure if we studied historical literature, there are other accounts of women believing they would have a son who would one day grow up to be king. But there was something troubling and confusing about the way Gabriel had shared this news. Gabriel’s words and ways made it clear that Mary’s pregnancy was not someday. Mary’s pregnancy was today, now. Mary wondered, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Mary had let go of her fears and believed Gabriel’s words, but she did not understand how her pregnancy would come about.
It was here that Gabriel revealed the news to Mary that the entire world was about to change. In fact, nothing in the world was ever or will ever be the same because of what Gabriel had to say. Luke wrote, “35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit would come to Mary. The Holy Spirit, the same one found in Genesis 1:1-2, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, that same one at creation was about to act and bring about Mary’s pregnancy. That same Holy Spirit becomes part of every believer enabling the believer to properly hear God’s Word and moving and empowering the believer to act. This is the way of God’s Spirit. He moves and acts through people such as Mary, through you, and through me.
Gabriel said that the child to be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit would be more than king. The child would be holy and called the Son of God. To be holy is to be set aside and untouched by sin. No one since the creation of Adam and Eve had been brought into this world sinless and thus holy. How could this child be and remain holy? Gabriel answered that question by revealing the boy, Mary’s child, would be the Son of God, that’s how. The world would never be the same because the Son of God was coming into the world.
We need to let that news sink Mary heard sink in a little bit. Mary heard the Holy Spirit would cause her to become pregnant with a boy who would be God’s own son. That is the occasion and the news Mary received when Mary let go of her fears. That is the news Mary was to celebrate.
How is this moment celebrated today? We give gifts and regift some of those gifts to family and friends. We decorate our homes. We say, “Merry Christmas,” or are we back to “Happy Holidays,” I forget. We post on Facebook sayings like, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Our stockings are hung by the chimney with care. We sing songs such as “White Christmas,” or “Feliz Navidad.” But do we ever speak as directly as Gabriel did? “Celebrate, God Changed Everything.” Or do we greet one another saying, “Rejoice, the Son of God Has Come.” We do not. But this is what Gabriel said to Mary and the power of God changed everything, not just for Mary, but for you and me.
How then should we think about these two divergent scenes we witnessed today involving Zechariah and Elizabeth, an old couple who become pregnant with their son, John and this young virgin woman, Mary, who became pregnant through the action of the Holy Spirit with the Son of God? Let’s remind ourselves that these things all happened because of and through just two words, “Our Father.” Our Father, God, expressed His will and desire through Gabriel, through the Holy Spirit, through Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. What was God’s expressed will? God’s will was that we would know that He loves us, each and every one of us. And in that love God wanted to reshape every human experience we have had and will ever have.
God wants us to see that He sends his Holy Spirit to work through those who are old, those who are young, through new born babies, and even through those who have been conceived but not yet born. No one is outside the reach of God’s love or outside God’s power to bring good news to the world.
God wants us to see that unbelief at his message of good news renders us mute unable to be a conduit of peace and joy to others. We must not let unbelief rob us of what can be.
God wants us to see that this season is not about packages, bows, and ribbons. This season is on of rejoicing because God so loved the world that he sent his Son. The Son of God came into the world not to condemn it as some had hoped but instead to save it and thus bring hope.
God wants us to loosen our grip on fear so he can replace it with peace. God wants us to discard shame heaped upon us by others and replace that the sensation of the Holy Spirit working within us. To feel the Holy Spirit within you is knowing life abundant and eternal is growing within you.
So let us receive then all that God wants us to receive and let God take us wherever He wills. “Celebrate, God Has Changed Everything.” “Rejoice, the Son of God Has Come.” Amen and Amen.