Summary: Advent sermon reflecting the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the need to keep the faith when it appaers our prayers are not being answered.
A mother was commenting one time about her children when they were little. She would always remind them on Christmas morning that it is Jesus’ birthday and he only received 3 gifts so don’t be disappointed in what lies under the tree. Then they all opened their presents. That next Sunday, while they were on their way to the worship service, she asked the children what they thought Jesus would think of Santa and all the hype. Would he ask Santa a question? Her youngest daughter replied, "I think Jesus would ask, ’how come I only got three things and none of them were toys?’" Apparently her daughter was quite disappointed in what she received for Christmas.
How do we deal with disappointment, let downs, especially when it is God we have the problem with? Ironically, during this Christmas season, our story begins not with the story of Jesus, as we would expect, but with the birth story of John, whose parents had experienced quite a disappointment for most of their married life. Zechariah and Elizabeth were their names. Zechariah was a priest, he served the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem twice a year (when his division had their turn), and he was married to a trophy wife (for a Jewish priests perspective anyway). No, I’m not talking about her looks, I’m talking about her bloodlines and her faith, she was a descendant of the first high priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the Bible says both she and Zechariah were righteous, observing the Lord’s commandments. These were apparently top notch godly people, but right off the bat we notice something is not right, all is not well with this couple.
In v. 6 it says, "they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.’ Which is a polite way of saying they were a public disgrace, because they were old and didn’t have any children. Why was it considered a disgrace not to have children? Because in the OT there are passages of Scripture which said children are a reward from God, like Psalm 127:3 says, "Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him," and two verses later, "blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them (v. 5).
The common thought process back then went something like this, if you lived a righteous life, God would reward you with lots of children. But what happened if the reverse were true, suppose you had no children, then what? Using the same logic meant you were apparently not blessed by God, perhaps God was even punishing you for something you did wrong, some commandment you didn’t keep. In the publics eyes Zechariah and Elizabeth were a disgrace, they must have done something wrong, even though we are told (after the fact) that they were actually righteous people who served God faithfully. They face a type of shame. Apparently the people forgot the story of Abraham, their patriarch, who had Isaac, at 90 years of age while his wife Sarah was 80. The people didn’t know about anatomy and scientific reasons for infertility back then. It was simple black and white matter for them. You’re either righteous and blessed or you aren’t.
I can imagine it was very difficult for Zechariah and Elizabeth, not only because of the disgrace they faced from their community as people looking down their noses at them, judging them without reason, but even more difficult must have been the challenge to their faith. I know if I were in their shoes (and I have been) I would begin to question and wonder, why? "Why God, after all these years of faithfully following you, have you not answered our most intimate prayer, the request that is closest to our heart? Why do you allow us to suffer so?" Perhaps they too began to wonder if there was something they had done wrong, perhaps God had forgotten them or he wasn’t going to answer their prayer. Doesn’t God bless the people who love and serve him? Ironically Zechariah’s name in Hebrew means "God has remembered" or "the Lord remembers." So every time someone said his name he was stung with this reminder.
The truth is we all face similar struggles in our life at some point in time. We all have times when we feel we have been overlooked by God, that God has ignored us. There seems to be no apparent answer to our prayer as the days, months, and years tick by. Or our situation in life doesn’t improve. Perhaps people around us treat us with disgrace. And we begin to wonder, is God listening? He feels far away. Or perhaps we start to think, "What have I done wrong? Am I praying wrong? Do I not have enough faith? Is there some sin I haven’t repented of in my past? Or people go in the opposite direction and we start doubting God: Is God really there? Has God forgotten me? Does he really care about me?