Christmas Conversations | Zechariah | Luke 1.11-20 |

by | Dec 16, 2023

“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 call him 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 before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel 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 parents 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 said to 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. 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 appointed time.” Luke 1.11-20

This is the first of several Christmas conversations leading up to the birth of Christ. As we are in this season of Advent, and only a few weeks away from Christmas Day, it’s important to reread and retell the story of the birth of the Christ child.

And so we begin with Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth who was the cousin of Mary, and the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah, like me, is not ready for this surprise. He’s in the temple, ministering before the Lord when an angel of the Lord appears and tells him about the birth of his own son, in his old age. Zechariah doesn’t believe and so is silenced until the birth of John, his son who will help usher in the Messiah.

I can relate to Zechariah. Just coming off a week in Africa, I told someone the other day that I am not in the “Christmas spirit.” For one, it was summer in Zimbabwe and very hot! Second, Christmas consumerism has much less importance there then here — I barely saw any decorations indicating that it was Christmas. And third, the whole materialism factor, compared to what people have in Africa, has kind of spoiled my appetite for the season.

I realize that this could be a good thing — I don’t want anything for Christmas this year. Besides, I have enough already. But I’m also having a hard time welcoming the baby Jesus in to my routine. Now that may sound funny since I am in ministry, but believe me, it happens all the time. We go to work for Jesus without giving time and attention to Jesus.

Like Zechariah, I’m saying to the Lord, “How can this be that Christmas is already upon us?” How can this be that it’s time to celebrate? What if I don’t want to celebrate? What if I don’t want to make your birth a big deal this year? These are all very real human responses. Perhaps it stems from our busyness, our complacency, or our apathy. It’s not that I don’t love the Lord, he is everything to me — it’s just gearing up for the whole season and how the consumeristic Christmas of our country makes me a little nauseous.

But also like Zechariah, I have a feeling the Lord is going to put me in my place and say, “Rusty, Christmas is not about you, how you feel or how ready you are to welcome me in — I am coming anyway. And I’m not about the fanfare, look at my birth in the manger — I came from humble beginnings! The Good News is that I came to save people from their sins — to be God and Messiah — to bring hope to the hopeless and help to the hurting. And so, even if you don’t feel like it, even if you are struggling with belief — CELEBRATE ME ANYWAY.”

And so, I concede and confess and ask the Lord to renew my heart for him this season. Knowing that Christmas isn’t about the receiving or giving of gifts, I will focus upon loving God and others more. I will serve my wife, my kids, my family and strangers. I will look for opportunities to be the hands and the feet of Jesus even when I don’t feel like it.

For the God who came in human form sacrificed his pride so I might have life. How can I not do the same?

“O Lord God, this is my confession — that I am in need of your Spirit to boost me, to strengthen me, to guide me. I am in need of your grace to fall down upon me and to lead me in the paths of understanding. For when I am weary, your love endures. Come now, Holy Spirit, I praise your name. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen