Torn between hope and doubt

Posted Dec 3, 2018

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Daily Scripture

Luke 1:5-20

5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. 8 One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. 10 All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. 11 An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.

13 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. 16 He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers [or parents] back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”

19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. 20 Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”

Reflection Questions

“Because there were [an estimated 18,000] priests, special duties had to be assigned by lot…. This occasion was likely Zechariah’s only opportunity to perform this service during his lifetime.”* It seems likely that when Zechariah awoke that day, he already thought he’d remember the day for the rest of his life. Yet little did he know how true that would be! The angel’s message to the aged priest was clearly worded to remind him of the words of the prophet Malachi (cf. Malachi 3:1, 4:5).

  • Had Zechariah and Elizabeth given up their hope for a child? The angel’s words in verse 13 (“Your prayers have been heard”) implied not. God’s messenger said Elizabeth would bear the child they’d prayed for all those years. But Zechariah found that “good news” (verse 19) almost too good to be true. Are you ever tempted to believe that, no matter what God may have done in the past, God would never actually affect your life? Do you see hope as naïve, even foolish, or as a solid foundation for facing whatever life brings you?
  • We find this reaction several times in the Advent story: “When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear” (verse 12). Zechariah’s fear made it hard for him to find hope in the angel’s “good news” (verse 19). Yet the angel’s first words were, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah” (verse 13). “Don’t be afraid” is the most common command God and God’s messengers give in the Bible. This Advent season, in what part(s) of life do you most need to take in the message, “Do not be afraid”?

Prayer

Lord God, you know how often doubt and fear tug at my heart. Send your message of hope and promise across my path, reminding me to trust and not to fear. Amen.


* HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 232061-232065). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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Chris Abel

Chris Abel

Chris Abel is the Pastor of Students and Young Adults at Resurrection, and he describes himself as a "Pastor/Creative-type/Adventurer." A former atheist turned passionate follower of Christ, he completed his seminary education in Washington, DC. Before coming to Resurrection, Chris was a campus pastor near St. Louis, MO.

I love the idea of Christmas. 

And I mean “idea” because for some reason when the actual day comes around it’s not quite as perfect as it once seemed as a kid. Has this happened to you? Every year I wake up on Christmas day and eventually there’s this part of me that thinks “is this it? This is Christmas? It’s just a day.”

And yet every year I fall for it again, hoping this Christmas might actually play out like the fantasy in my head. 

I’ve actually had a lot of these moments. Summiting mountains. Traveling to far-off lands. Graduating from seminary. Getting my pants on before noon. 

All somehow falling short of some fantasy I had. (Especially that last one.)

There’s this dangerous part of my heart that thinks that happiness and meaning are somewhere up ahead—up the road, around the corner. Which is why I was so curious when I read the GPS for today. Because for Zechariah, walking into the holiest parts of the Temple was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Here’s a priest, who has waited devotedly for a lifetime to walk into this sacred place alone for a chance of encountering God…

and God points him back outside. 

God points him not just back outside, but back home—to the woman he sees every day. 

And I can’t help but wonder if that day Zechariah thought he’d find answers in that sacred Temple space. Maybe he’d find his purpose, or an answer to the reason he never had kids. Maybe he’d encounter God and have a transcendent experience. But no. Even though he thought this moment would be sacred, God was working somewhere outside the temple.

The real sacred moment was happening at home. 

And if you’re like me, you might have to read that again. So many of us think that the best parts of life are supposed to happen down the road—when you get the promotion, or lose the weight, or send the kids off to college, or… when everyone gets together for Christmas. 

But the angel points a finger right back home to the most familiar parts of his life. For Zechariah, that was his wife… who he likely took for granted. God showed up in her—The woman he slept next to every single night. 

Maybe God was even there all along—if Zechariah had only opened his eyes (and shut his mouth) sooner. 

For us, Christmas is probably not going to be the best moment of the year. It’ll be nice, perhaps, but the real sacred moments don’t happen down the road or in a temple. The real sacred moments are likely around us every day and we just aren’t paying attention. 

So maybe this Christmas season we shouldn’t put pressure on a day to make us happy. 

Maybe this Christmas season we should take a cue from the angel and look to God in the everyday moments that we so often miss. Don’t miss out on the miracle of now because you think joy lives on December 25th. You might find an angel pointing to December 26th. 

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