Thursday, September 01, 2011


It may seem like an inconsequential thing, this statement in the first chapter of Luke:  "Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord" (1:6).  But truly it is a powerful piece of insight, one that touches me deeply.  Luke has just introduced the reader to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, the one chosen to prepare God's people to receive Jesus.  And then he tells us they were righteous.

Of course they were righteous, right?  I mean, they are major players in the birth narrative of our Savior.  And what Biblical heroes aren't righteous?   (Okay, so there are a few.)  But there is something huge hidden in the matter of fact introduction of John's parents.  Between the time that the last prophet to Israel had prophesied and the birth of John, 400 years had lapsed since God had spoken to His people.  God was silent for all that time.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were living in a time where no one was saying, "Thus says the Lord."  Their obedience and love for God humbles me,  and it inspires me.

I am inspired because their story shows me what is possible.  It's possible to live in right relationship with God and others, even when God is quiet.  I am tickled by the ways I am learning this.  Since the middle of August I have been working Tuesday's and Thursday's as pre-school teacher for four year olds.  Our whole day revolves around helping our sweet boys and girls learn how to take responsibility for themselves and make good choices without us telling them what to do each time.  The goal is to help them become mature and independent, to learn to function with greater responsibility so that they are ready for kindergarden next fall.  Ultimately they will be able to come into the classroom, hang up their own backpack, get out their folder and put it in their cubby, write their names in their composition books, and find a quiet game to play all on their own, without having to be reminded of the process each time.  There comes a time when constant coaching is no longer helpful.  It teaches them to remain dependent upon us when they have the ability within to do some things for themselves.  We want them to be successful in this exercise because it will help them down the road.

I am beginning to think the same thing is true about God.  I think we reach a place in our relationship with Him that He begins to draw back so that we can see what we have learned, how much we have grown, the strength that He has diligently nurtured within us.  The greatest loss comes when we remain immature in our faith and are never able to grow into God's purpose for us!  Or we simply refuse to exercise the faith that His grace has instilled within us, demanding to remain spiritual infants who refuse to be weened into the next step of growth.  It is like Paul lamenting about the Corinthians, "I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  Indeed you are still not ready" (I Corinthians 3:2).  If God is constantly having to hold our hand so that we can have faith in Him, we will never be able to serve or teach or encourage anyone else in the body of Christ since our own faith is so flimsy.  The silence shows us the content of our hearts, and just how deeply the love and knowledge of God is rooted there.

There is something else that humbles and inspires me.  It comes from the very next verse in Luke:  "But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old" (Luke 1:7).  I remember what it was like to be childless, to look with longing at mothers with babies, to hope and pray every night that God would give us a child of our own.  Tim and I prayed prayers like that for three years.  Just when I had given up hope that I would ever be a mother, God stepped in and changed everything for us in a dramatic way.  Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated our oldest son's seventh birthday.  Praise God for so many blessings!  Tim and I joke that our offspring certainly showcase God's sense of humor; we have one son for each year of trying.  So I know that kind of longing, but not to the degree that Elizabeth and Zechariah knew it.  They spent their whole lives, all the way to old age, longing for something that was never granted, until the idea of fulfillment was long dead.  And yet they are still described as righteous, known as people who lived rightly. 

That one verse shows it is possible to live in right relationship with God when disappointment  seems to great to bear.  I wonder at what point Zechariah and Elizabeth made peace with their personal anguish?  When were they able to say, "So life has marked me irrevocably in this way, there is nothing I can do to change it, and yet I will serve the Lord"?  Perhaps they never did make peace with their anguish.  It's interesting to me that we have no way of knowing.  What we do know is that they lived long lives in righteousness, even when life didn't turn out the way they thought it would.

This place I'm in is a place I never thought I would be.  I savor the parts of it that have surprised me with joy:  the warmth of love that greets me when I am with my boys, the relief I feel now that I no longer have to put something else ahead of them.  But then there are other parts that give me pause.  There are some prayers I've been praying for years, the subject matter so dear to my heart I don't dare stop praying, or hoping.  However, my weary heart believes it is about time God answered, especially when we are dependent upon Him like never before.  In the wake of disruption, I want to see the unexpected goodness of God burst upon our lives with fresh goodness.  I don't understand why He would wait so long in answering.  My ears ache with the strain of listening for stirrings of His Word for us.

And so, oddly enough, I am encouraged in the place I never thought I would be.  Zechariah and Elizabeth found a way to remain connected to the God, even when their deepest hopes and dreams never materialized after years of faithful waiting.  I love that the text does not elaborate on those years of dryness.  It simply makes a declaration of the culmination of those years.  That at the end of the day, for days and years on end, they decided that belonging to God was the most important thing.  Even in the face of unquenched longing.  If such an ordinary couple like them could do it, maybe we can to.

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