Advents is my favorite season of the Christian calendar and Luke 1 is my favorite section of Scripture. So I decided to create a series of reflections on Luke 1 for advent. This week will focus on Zechariah.
Luke often presents two people in a similar situation, but with contrasting responses.
• Two rich men- one who walks away from Jesus, and one who gives away half of all he has,and makes restitution to those he has wronged.
• Two men who go to the temple to pray, only one leaves justified
• Two sons- one runs away, one stays home
• Two sisters- one sits at his feet and the other prepares food in the kitchen
• Two people on a cross on either side of Jesus, one makes fun of him, the other
asks for forgiveness.
It is a compelling way to journey through Luke.
I want to look at the opening snapshot.
Two people get visited by an angel.
Two people are going to have baby.
Two different responses.
There has been 400 years of silence since the last prophet spoke. And his closer was a cliffhanger- “I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5) Those words were written 400 years earlier.
And then silence.
Think about how long it took for each Harry Potter book to come out.
Think about how long it is taking George R. R. Martin to finish the freaking Game of
Thrones series. (Correction from my nerdy husband- the series is technically called A Song of Ice and Fire.)
Consider the unending patience I am enduring as I wait for Black Panther to be in theaters.
It all feels like a loooooooong time. And each of those things has happened in the span of years, not centuries.
Suddenly, we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Like the country of Israel, they are familiar with waiting. He and his wife were an elderly couple, described as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” They had waited all their lives to have a child, and yet they waited in vain.
Zechariah is serving in the temple. There were about about 8,000 priest in Isarael at that time, divided into 24 divisions. Each division had 300 priests. The Abijah division, to which Zechariah belonged, served for a two week period each year and 56 priests participated each day.
Each day there were two services, and on this day, during this service, Zehcariah drew the lot. Many priests never had the privilege of serving in this capacity, and no one was allowed to do it twice. He would enter deeper into the temple and light the incense. This moment would be the pinnacle of his priestly career. Outside people would be praying for the redemption of Israel, he would enter and light the incense as a symbol of the prayers of the people rising up to God.
Suddenly an angel appears. ( Cue dramatic music!)
Every time an angel appears in the Bible people, people are scared, because they were quite badass.
And Gabriel shows up with an amazing message.
At the pinnacle of Zechariah’s priestly career, an angel appears with the most amazing and exciting news. “Your prayers have been heard. You’re going to be a dad. And your son is going to turn people’s hearts to God.”
And Zechariah response, in this amazing moment is …………….. doubt.
“Ummmm… I’m too old for that. And my wife is old too.”
You can hear the needle scratching off the record.
And then the angel starts to talk trash.
“Zechariah. Bro. Do you even know my name? Do you know where I came from? Like, where I JUST came from? My name is Gabriel. And I was recently hanging in the presence of the living God. Do you get what that means? I have been sent from God to tell you some seriously good news. And now you need to shut up until the things you are saying start making sense.”
Cliff Notes- Zechariah, shut up, until you stop talking crazy.
Have we really waited 400 years for this? All our expectations are set: a childless couple, the temple, a priest, an angel. This is the formula for a God thing to happen. For faith to be manifested. For leadership to happen. But Zechariah, the one we would expect to kick off Luke, does not respond with trust and faith. And as a result, the angel silences him.
The one that we think will be the model of faith in this moment, is not.
The one that has all the cultural markers of leadership, is not our faith leader.
The place that we expect to see a faithful response, is a place of doubt and mistrust.
Before we jump to Mary. We have to sit with Zechariah.
Because the first thing that Luke highlights is that the arrival of Jesus means that the ones that we think will lead, are not the ones. The obvious hero, will not be the hero.
It’s almost cliche how often I hear Christians say that we shouldn’t put God in a box. But every week pulpits are full of men. Not just in white churches. It is probably even more likely in an immigrant church, in an Asian American church, a Latinx church.
Every week we say, “Don’t put God in a box,” but then we expect God to speak through the exact same types people. From the exact same types of places. People with the exact same credentials. The people our culture has told us are leaders.The same people, with the same interpretations of Scripture, and the same narratives of faith.
Men with seminary degrees.
Rich pastors with big churches.
It is the moneyed.
It is the successful.
It is the popular.
It isn’t men.
It isn’t those who are older.
It isn’t the seminary trained.
It isn’t white people.
It isn’t the rich.
It isn’t those who work at church.
It isn’t those who fit narratives of faithfulness.
It isn’t those who have all the markers of Christian leadership.
And in case you have any doubts about who people in the US look to for leadership. Here are a few lists.
Zechariah has all the right cultural and spiritual markers of faith. But he has the wrong response, and he is silenced.
Advent is a disruption.
Leadership will be coming from elsewhere.
Something new is coming. Look somewhere new for faith.
It is time for those who have been at the center, to be quiet.