One of the most common feelings at Christmas is feeling forgotten. It might be missing out on a Christmas party, a gift, a bonus at work, or not getting a Christmas card from someone.
Christmas raises the awareness of our feelings that lay beneath the surface for the rest of the year.
The story of Christmas found in Matthew and Luke is a story of the unexpected. Two thousand years ago, in Israel, the people of God had been waiting. God had been silent for 400 years. Think about that for a moment, 400 years and nothing from God. God had not sent a prophet. A king or even an angel to help them like in the past. There were so many prophecies made in the Old Testament, and yet for 400 years, nothing seemed to be happening.
God seemed eerily quiet. They felt forgotten. The people of God wondered if God would remember his promise to send a Messiah.
And if we’re honest, some of us are there today. Some of us feel like God is silent. That God has gone away even. We might also feel forgotten.
The first person God comes to is a man named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. Verse 6 of Luke 1 tells us about them: Both of them 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.
Zechariah was a priest who went into the temple to intercede on behalf of the people. So, he’s doing his job, going about his business. We must be told they were blameless and then that they were childless because in this culture, if you weren’t able to have children, that was often seen as a curse from God, or it made people wonder if you had sinned. But it also tells us about their situation.
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. Luke 1:11 – 15a
Now, when we think of angels, we always think of cute, cuddly creatures floating on a cloud that looks like a baby in a diaper or a toga. Yet every time an angel appears in scripture, the first thing they say is, “Don’t be afraid.” Because the angels looked more like warriors. They were called warriors of light.
The angel tells him, your prayer has been heard. What prayer? It could be the prayer to have a child, but as a priest, he would’ve been praying for the coming of the Messiah.
I’ve often wondered if he was still praying for a child or if he had given up on that prayer. Has that happened to you when you think, “I’m done praying for this because nothing seems to be happening.” We don’t believe that, but we just one day stop asking God for something.
I wonder if, sometimes, to protect ourselves from being hurt, we stop expecting God to do anything.
Look at Zechariah’s response in verse 18: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
We’re so hard on people in the bible. An angel is standing there talking to you, and you are questioning him. How could he doubt?