Often during the month of December I spend my morning quiet times reading and meditating on the Scriptures describing Christ's birth. My first reading this week began in Luke 1.
Zacharias' story opens in verse 5 with "There were in the days of Herod...." MacArthur's Study Bible notes that this was Herod the Great, the first of several important rulers descended from the Edomites, offspring of Esau. "Herod was ruthless and cunning. He loved opulence and grand building projects, and many of the most magnificent ruins that can be seen in modern Israel date back to the days of Herod the Great. His most famous project was the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem [although it] was not completed until long after Herod's death."
The stage is set. In Jerusalem there are massive building projects, trade, worship - the hustle and bustle of a busy urban life. The scene opens on "a certain priest named Zacharias." We quickly learn that he and his wife Elizabeth were from the priestly line of Aaron, but more importantly "they were both righteous before God, walking [emphasis mine] in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
Can you imagine being recorded for the rest of human history as righteous and blameless before God? This couple's life was marked by faithfulness. Day in and day out they lived according to the Law. They faithfully worshipped at the Temple and sought to please God with their lives. Then the next word of verse 7 strikes me,
Luke records the faithfulness of two people, BUT the one thing in life they desired more than anything else - a child - they had not received. Then, as if to highlight the tragedy, Luke tells us "and they were both well advanced in years."
We, as 21st century Christians, know this story so well. We read over these first eight verses as the descriptive precursor to a miracle by God's hand, and although that is the exciting culmination of Zacharias and Elizabeth's story, there is much to be learned in the preamble.
When I was thirteen years old my mother took me to my first women's conference. I'm sure she just wanted to spend some time with me and give me opportunity to hear encouragement from a female perspective. Little did either of us know that by the end of that conference I would walk out with a calling of God on my life. The conference speaker didn't even address the topics of callings, and I was thirteen - what did I know about them? All I know is that I left that meeting knowing - completely assured - of what God was going to do in my life. It was quite a moment for a young girl.
I continued through my teen years, not focused on what God had revealed, but aware enough to not make any decisions that would exempt me from fulfilling God's will for my life. I went off to Bible college and began looking for opportunities to fulfill my calling. God, in His great kindness, gave me room to grow and I, like most college students, felt I had the world by the tail. It was all going according to the plan I had envisioned.
Then I got married to a pastor and we began working with youth and teaching in a Christian school. Life was hard, but again, God had put me right in the center of His will. I thought my life would be this way until death. BUT...
God delights in change. He loves to take a scenario in our life, and if it were recorded for history, it would include the word "but." It's as if God voices
"you may have thought this, but...",
"you may have wanted this, but",
"you may have gone here, but..."
Not only does this challenge our trust, but it challenges our faithfulness also. When those unexplainable circumstances in life come, are we faithful like Zacharias and Elizabeth? Do we accept the life God gives to us - trusting that He knows best?
In my early thirties my life fell apart and from my perspective, I thought the calling of God would never be fulfilled. Instead I was just beginning to be refined by fire. Oh, how I needed it! God had not shelved me, but it sure felt that way. All that I had been striving to accomplish went up in smoke. It hadn't been God's work through me. I had some God-sized lessons to learn.
In my late thirties, as healing continued, I realized that I didn't truly grasp foundational truths of God's love and grace. It's as if I had known about God, but didn't know Him. He patiently unfolded truths that had been so obvious mentally, but never truly experienced. God was real; He really loved me and there was enough grace to continue on.
Now into my early 40's I see the Lord's restoration in my life, but I've stopped striving for the calling in my own power. Like Zacharias and Elizabeth, my greatest desire is to be found faithful. Living daily by the Holy Spirit's guidance is by far the most challenging, but as I give up my own will and rest in what He calls me to do, I find that faithfulness manifests itself.
Like Zacharias and Elizabeth, God's calling will be fulfilled in me. I may be advanced in years, but God is faithful.
Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I encourage you to take some time this holiday season to think about where you are in your walk with the Lord. Do you need to be more purposeful in your obedience so you will be remembered as faithful? Maybe you're in the middle of circumstances that have you clinging to God's faithfulness. Wherever you are, Immanuel, "God with Us," is there for you. Praise the Lord!