Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Lessons: Zechariah

God sent the angel Gabriel to tell the priest Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. This was an amazing promise considering that Elizabeth was barren and past her childbearing years. Zechariah asked the angel for proof that his promise was real. Gabriel seemed a bit affronted that Zechariah had questioned him. "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," he replied. If Zechariah wanted proof, then Gabriel would give him proof—he told Zechariah that he would not be able to speak until his son, John the Baptist was born.

This story teaches me that when God tells me that something amazing is about to happen, it's generally not the best idea to reply, "Yeah, right."

Of course, in Zechariah's defense, he was alone in the temple lighting incense when Gabriel appeared before him. It would have been really easy for Zechariah to wonder if he was hallucinating as he breathed in the fragrant fumes. What if the angel was a figment of his imagination? How could such an incredible thing really be happening? And so Zechariah asked Gabriel to prove that he and his message were real. You and I would probably do the same. Zechariah believed in God, but he wasn't expecting such an incredible miracle. That's the whole point of miracles—they defy all of our expectations. Often when we are faced with the wonder of God's power we become skeptical. We think it's more likely that our brains are malfunctioning than that God would do something so extraordinary in our lives.

I think I understand how Zechariah felt when he beheld Gabriel with disbelief. I sometimes feel that way myself. How can I tell the difference between God's guiding hand in my life and my own imagination? How can I be sure that the messages I get from God are authentic? Sometimes, like Zechariah, I find myself wanting a sign. However, I've learned to be careful what I ask for. I may not get the sign I want.

Still, Zechariah's muteness was a gift from God. He asked for a sign, and Gabriel gave him a sign that was unmistakable. Zechariah could no longer doubt this miraculous encounter. His muteness was a forceful reminder that Gabriel and his message were real. God was not vindictive and did not leave Zechariah mute forever—his voice was restored when Gabriel's promise was fulfilled in the birth of John. In the end, Zechariah was blessed with a son, something he had longed for but given up as an impossibility. Zechariah had to learn the hard way to trust God, but then again, the lesson wasn't so hard after all. After nine months of muteness he was blessed with a son, and that miracle is what he carried in his heart for the rest of his life.

We can doubt God, but sooner or later He will get our attention. He is capable of all things, even proving to skeptics like us that He has the power to work wondrous miracles in our lives. When I doubt, it's OK for me to ask for a sign. That might not turn out exactly the way I had hoped, but somehow God will give me what I need in the end. God's miracles are real, so I can allow myself to believe in them. Zechariah certainly learned to believe, and he found joy in doing so.
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