21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered why he was in the sanctuary for such a long time. 22 When he came out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he gestured to them and couldn’t speak. 23 When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. 24 Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, 25 “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.”
In Zechariah and Elizabeth’s day, “Childless parents lacked support in their old age, and many people assumed that such a condition reflected divine punishment for sin.”* That’s why Luke stressed in Luke 1:6 that “they were righteous before God.” It was what Elizabeth meant when she said God had showed favor by “removing my disgrace among other people.” “This is the Lord’s doing” didn’t mean they were passive—Elizabeth no doubt experienced all the good and difficult parts of pregnancy. But in and through it all, she saw God at work.
Lord God, you worked out your plan through ordinary people like Zechariah and Elizabeth. That gives ordinary me hope. I hold myself ready for whatever you have in mind for me. Amen.
* HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 232054-232055). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, pp. 7-8.)
In Jesus’ time—and, indeed, throughout most of history—children were seen not only as a blessing, but as security in old age. There were no programs, no 401k savings accounts to fall back on. When people lived long enough to start struggling with life, it was their children that took care of them. As such, people grew to see children as God’s blessing, and they also saw a lack of children as a punishment for sin. Looking back on this now, it seems ludicrous. We know so much more about fertility now, and we have so many more options for dealing with old age, so it’s a little hard today to relate to what Zechariah and Elizabeth were dealing with.
The closest equivalent I can think of today would be wealth. Most people today tend to see wealth as a blessing springing from doing everything right in life—and they see a lack of wealth as a sign of making poor choices in life. The amount of time I’ve heard others say that people struggling financially are in that position because they couldn’t give up iPhones or Starbucks lattes is staggering. If you have wealth, you tend to believe you’ve done everything right in life, and it’s easy to look down on people who don’t have it.
I used to work for a law office, preparing bankruptcies for people who had no way of paying off their debt. It was very eye-opening for me. There were people who were just really bad with money and rang up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt, yes; but most of the cases I saw were people whose lives were destroyed by tragedy: insurmountable medical debts, divorce or a death in the family causing single moms to spiral out of control, and many other unforeseen events. These people’s lives changed drastically basically overnight, and, in many cases, there was nothing they could do to prevent it.
There are many other factors that play into wealth as well, such as education, where you live, what people think of the groups you belong to, and what kind of family you’re born into. And yet, still, many people I talk to believe that wealth was given to them for making all the right choices. The truth is, many people do all the right things and never see wealth—and many people do all the wrong things and see wealth anyway. Not to say that there’s no value in being smart with your finances, but we also can’t assume that anyone struggling financially deserves it.
So imagine struggling financially with your spouse into old age, having no security for your future, having other people judge you and say you deserve your fate. Imagine making all of the right choices and still never seeing your big break. Imagine dealing with that your whole life. That’s how Zechariah and Elizabeth felt. It’s a dire spot to be in, and it’s extremely frustrating. So imagine how Zechariah felt when he heard from God that all of that was going to change?
There are three things we can learn from Zechariah’s story. One, it’s never too late for good things to happen. Zechariah and Elizabeth were without a secure future for most of their lives, and they were frequently blamed for it. It wasn’t until old age, very close to the time they would need it, that they gained this security. Two, if God gives you what you’ve been needing and wanting for some time, be very careful about flaunting that. It can feel vindicating to receive what you’ve been working toward for years, whether that’s a child or financial security or anything else, but there are still other people who have not yet received—and some who will never receive. Remember what it was like to be left wanting, and be willing to support people who are still wanting. Three, never be quick to judge why someone has not received the same blessings you have. There are many people just as deserving as you who have not been similarly blessed, and some who are more deserving. Always be willing to look past the life a person has been given to see the person they’re becoming through it.
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