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Both [Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth] were righteous
in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.
But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive,
 and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,
he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood,
to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
And when the time for the burning of incense came,
all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
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 call him John.
Luke 1:6-13
Points to Ponder:
Realizing that what the song deems to be the most wonderful time of the year is not always, in fact, the problem-free time of the year was perhaps one of the first disappointments I encountered as I emerged from the the tender age of childish idealism. My first really solemn Christmas came just three short months after the auto crash that took my grandmother’s life. Then there was the year I sat in the family area of the hospital while my mother underwent an excisional biopsy on December 23rd; I was painfully unaware that the forthcoming results would show no malignancy. There was also the Christmas Eve I sat at the bedside of my aunt, knowing as she slept on that silent night that it would be the final one of several Christmases that she had battled cancer. And then 2016 brought the painful and untimely loss of dear friends and loved ones, especially Kanoa, Nancy, Miss Pat, Gracie.
But over the years I’ve learned that heartache – and yes, even devastating circumstances – play a role in Advent and in our spiritual joy as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Even Scripture attest to that fact.
Admittedly, today’s passage from Luke ends on a promising note. But glance back to its opening lines. We learn that Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth had struggled with the disappointment of being childless. Since Luke take the time and ink to tell us the the couple was “very old,” we can safely assume that had dealt with this issue for a number of years. As devastating as it is to long month after month in our culture for a child who doesn’t come, Zechariah – and certainly Elizabeth – would have faced public humiliation from society plus their own heartbreak as a childless couple. It is entirely possible that they wondered why they had not been blessed to become parents. The people of their day considered the inability to conceive to be a curse, in fact, so it is also entirely possible that Zechariah and Elizabeth may thought they had done something wrong at some point in their lives that led God to punish them in this way.
Even in 2016, there is something about unexplained struggles that can lead us as followers of Christ to question our own lives or motives and – for some – even whether God truly has our personal interest at heart. It is easy, for example, to understand why the star on the Christmas tree doesn’t work when we haven’t connected it to an electrical outlet. Or why there’s no fire in the fireplace this winter when we failed to gather the needed wood last summer or fall. But in those times when we honestly believe we have made our best effort – or at least can’t figure out what we’ve done wrong – that lingering question of “Why?” can circle around in our hearts to the point that it compounds our sadness with manmade confusion.
Read through today’s passage of Scripture, though, and think about what it doesn’t tell us. While going about his priestly duties in the temple on a particular day, Zechariah meets this angel who has a message for him straight from God’s throne. That message simply stated two things: that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son; and that they were to name the son John. Notice that, ironically, the angel offered no information regarding the why of the couple’s long years of disappointment.
Luke’s record of the struggle and eventual miracle of Zechariah and Elizabeth illustrates a point that is often overlooked of vast importance to us as we seek to internalize the truth of the Christmas season. The fact of the incarnate Christ’s coming to earth is not a health-and-wealth claim about God giving people what they want. For every childless man and wife who finally conceives, there are many others who never do. I won’t get to spend another Christmas with grandparents or my aunt – or Kanoa, or Nancy, or Miss Pat, or Gracie – who have passed away until I join them in Heaven at God’s appointed time. 
But I can rest in the knowledge of what the fact of the incarnate Christ’s coming to earth is about, and what it’s about excites me to no end. The incarnate Christ’s coming to earth – His glorious advent – is about God’s plans to bring into a disappointed, devastated world what everyone in that world needs.  Zechariah’s misery ended in an unexpected way as God prepared for the coming of the promised Messiah. And God’s presence can bring surprising blessings to situations that may seem hopeless today.
When we invite God to draw Himself near to us as He did through the birth of His Son, His presence – His very presence – sets things right within our world in such a way that the darkness of disappointment and devastation pales, as the hymnist writes, in the light of His glory and grace.
– Copyright 2016, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All Rights Reserved.
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Focus for Reflection:
Have you ever felt God drawing near to you even as you experienced disappointment or devastation? If so, briefly recount the details of the situation.
Does the fact that Zechariah and Elizabeth are described as “righteous” despite their disappointment in any way change the way you see yourself experiencing devastation while waiting expectantly for Christ’s second coming? How so?
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