A Prophet’s Gift of Faith: Zechariah’s story

given on Sunday, November 27, 2011–the first Sunday of Advent



Scripture basis:  Luke 1: 5-20     The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold (from the NIV)

 5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

 19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you 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 proper time.”

The Prophet’s Gift of Faith:  Zechariah’s story

The weather forecast looks a bit bleak.  Cold, rain and grey skies makes us a little less energetic.  Yet don’t we want to check on the weather forecast daily?  Why is it that we listen with heightened interest when the weather comes on?  And think about how you can be in an entirely different room when you hear that familiar alert sound saying turn to channel 17 for the weather alert.

We listen eagerly for the sunny, warm days that allow us to plan for special outings or certain tasks that need to get done.  Then when we hear the forecast for a thunderstorm or even worse–tornado or blizzard—how do we react?  Do we place our faith in the meteorologists who tell us what is yet to come?

Of course there are the skeptics out there who simply see all the failures of the meteorologists.  They may listen intently to the weather, but they choose to disregard what they say.  They may decide to rely strictly on what is outside the door when they step outside.  They certainly do not put any trust in what is predicted.

That same skepticism is found in the Bible.  The record of the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament shares the results of those who listened to the prophets with faith and those who listened but then ignored what was forecasted.  The same reactions compare to those we have to the weather forecasts.

Yet for thousands of years, generation after generation a group of prophets kept forecasting the arrival of a Savior, the Messiah, or a King.  Many kept holding on to that promise, but many chose not to listen.  The promise never seemed to be fulfilled.  Why should they believe any longer?

            Consider the fact that for 2,000 plus years, the faithful tribes of Israel were always being told that they were going to have a new leader, someone who could make right all the wrongs they had suffered while in captivity and while wandering around the desert.  The prophets kept predicting this person’s coming, but he never seemed to materialize.  The faith of the Jewish people waivered just like the people who fail to heed the tornado, hurricane, and blizzard warnings.

Then came Zechariah.  Here was a man who was born and raised to serve as a priest.  The prophets in the Old Testament followed the same tradition, being born into the avocation of the family line.  Zechariah was fulfilling his duties as a member of the priestly division of Abijah.  His turn to supervise the burning of incense placed him in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared with his news.

The scripture from Luke, carefully answers all the concerns of the new Christians or those still not completely convinced of the truth in Jesus’ birth.  In this opening Luke’s gospel, the prediction of Jesus’ birth was delivered, despite Zechariah’s inability to speak words.  Since everybody knew Zechariah was faithful so the anticipation of the savior’s birth is renewed.

Where does that place us now over 2,000 years since then?  Do we have the same level of faith that Zechariah had or do we ignore the story because it is just like the weather—coming and going, never matching the predictions?

They had heard it before, what could be different this time?  Even Zechariah struggled to believe it and questioned the angel Gabriel:

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you 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 proper time.”

Even, Zechariah questioned Gabriel so how could everybody else, whether from a line of priests or from any other lineage, believe such a prediction?

This first Sunday of advent, the prediction that Luke opens his gospel establishes the connection of a faithful, patient servant to the prophecies of the Old Testament.  Zechariah’s experience demonstrated how faith is rewarded.  For the faithful attending temple and for those who heard the news, hope revived and faith was rewarded.

Has Luke revived your faith?  Has Zechariah’s story caused your seed of faith to grow a little bigger?  Has God ever gone back on his promise?  Have you doubted the mystery of Christ’s birth?  Or have you simply believed?  Remember that as long as you have even the faith the size of a mustard seed, you will receive the gift of eternal life.

Dear Loving and Giving Father,

Years and years separate us from the birth of Your Son.

Many have given up their faith because they do not believe

The story told so long, long ago in a country far away.

The prophets had long given the faithful hope,

But 2,000 years hope faded and faith was tested.

Zechariah, faithful all his life, even questioned Gabriel,

Still God sent a message of hope to those who still believed.

Now, another 2,000 years later, their remain the faithful,

But so many have allowed their faith to die.

During the Advent Season, help us to nurture the seeds of faith

So the world can be transformed once again.

Amen.

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