Summary: The problem of pain, from the perspective of Elizabeth and Zechariah. God heals!
Love Found A Way To Heal Our Pain
Intro: (video clip from “Bruce Almighty”)
Do you ever feel like that? “God could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to…”; “the only one around here not doing his job is YOU!”
If you haven’t seen the rest of Bruce Almighty, it is God paging him, and the plot unfolds from there.
Feeling the pain:
We’ve encouraged you this morning to allow yourself to acknowledge the areas of hurt and pain in your life. To not suppress them, to not pretend that everything is hap-happy if it isn’t. The reason for that is simple: because love found a way to heal that pain. This is not a cliché, as Bruce’s wife, Grace, was accused of. Instead, it is an invitation to an encounter. I want to invite you to see God this morning, and allow Him into your pain.
The Pain of Elisabeth and Zechariah (Lk 1:5-7):
Let me introduce you to a married couple. Their story is from the book of Luke. “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.”
A pastor named Paul Decker describes it like this: “Zechariah and Elizabeth knew disappointment. Zechariah and Elizabeth knew the pain of infertility. Here was a couple that was well into their sixties. And for years, they went crazy hearing all the lines… “Just relax.” “Don’t try so hard.” “Take an extended vacation.” “Why don’t you adopt a child?” “Have faith.” “Just trust God.” “There isn’t any unconfessed sin in your life, is there?”
He continues, “I am sure that they went through all the stages that infertile couples go through. At first, they deny that it is happening to them. But, then it becomes evident that children aren’t coming and so they attempt to avoid children altogether. Then, there is the anger. At this point, all they really want to do is hide. Because they are just plain mad. It just seems so unfair. Then, somewhere along the line, acceptance sets in. They come to the conclusion that this is their lot in life.”
Scripture doesn’t tell us at what point they gave up their hope of having a child. I think most women in their culture 2000 years ago would have been finished childbearing by 35 or so, so let’s guess Elisabeth and Zechariah came to that point of acceptance by about age 40, after trying to conceive for probably 20 years. We do know that they had not become bitter, angry, resentful people, as Luke tells us that they were upright in God’s sight; he even uses the word “blameless.” They had accepted their pain, and loved and served God anyway.
We also know that by the time of this story, they are both “well along in years.” We don’t know exactly how old, but the next time Luke uses that exact phrase is in chapter 2, when he is talking about a woman named Anna who, he tells us, is 84 years old. For the sake of argument, let’s put Elisabeth and Zechariah in their 60s, and do the math. If they gave up the hope of children in their 40s, that dream had been dead for 20 years. They had lived through 40 years of birthdays and feast days and family gatherings, without a family of their own. Some of you can relate to their pain, because you have felt that also. Others haven’t felt the pain of infertility, but have felt the pain of children who have rejected and hurt and said terrible, painful things. Others of us have different sources, but can identify with the hurt. Maybe even for 20 years or more. Sometimes the pain runs very, very deep.
Umm, which prayer? (vss 8-13a):
The story continues in Scripture: “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.”
As I read this story in preparation for this Christmas season, this jumped off the page at me. I was picturing this scene in my mind, Zechariah the old man, chosen for this incredible privilege, offering the prayers of all the people in the temple of the Lord. And this angel shows up, terrifies him, and says “your prayer has been heard.” I sometimes try to imagine myself in Scripture scenes, to try and see what it must have been like, and when I do that with this story I see Zechariah thinking, through the surprise and terror, “ummm, which prayer is that??” Some people imagine Zechariah here in the temple, offering the incense, and praying for a child for himself and Elisabeth. I HIGHLY doubt it. As a matter of fact, I think it was probably the furthest thing from his mind at the time. He wasn’t thinking about a 20 year old scar, he was focused on his duties as a priest. I hear him thinking, “ummm, what prayer would that be?” And then he hears the next words out of the angel’s mouth: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” I hear him thinking, “OH! THAT prayer!!!”