A Christmas message about a baby
Boring disclaimer to follow
Descartes says ‘the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of’’. In the context of Bible study this means that we may think we are reasoning out a particular meaning and deep thought but really we are following our heart. I can’t speak for everyone but in my case I have seen how my view of scripture has changed with my changing life circumstances and moods. I make no representation that anything I say about the meaning of Bible passages is true. I am not a prophet and God does not speak to me directly. The only thing I promise is that the meaning is true for me right now. I pray that you are blessed by it.
Speaking of meanings changing depending on life experiences, I have noticed that different characters in the Bible stories come alive for me depending on my age. The Christmas shepherds used to interest me most because it was a place where you could put a small child in the Christmas story. Think of the little drummer boy. He’s not in the story but be could have been there. The Jesus in the temple story used to be a favorite of mine when I was near that age. Lately, and the implications of this unsettle me, the John the Baptist being born to the Zachariah and Elizabeth has taken on a new light.
When my first daughter was born I was very happy but tempering that happiness was the knowledge that my child rearing years had begun. The messiness, the tiredness the driving here and there, it made me take a deep breath at the same time as held that little bundle of joy. Nine years later, I was nine years more mature and I had had nine more years of hard life lessons, my second child was born. This time, when I held that little bundle of joy there was only joy. I didn’t care about colic or diapers or anything, I was just so happy to have another child. That feeling has allowed me to think that I maybe have some idea of how Zachariah felt when his son was born.
Our pastor recently preached on the different responses of Mary and Zachariah when an angel told them that they were going to have a child. They both questioned the Angel. You would think that seeing an Angel would preclude questions but not in either case. Mary asked how this could happen since she had not known a man and Zachariah asked how this could be since both he and Elizabeth were old. Only Zachariah was reprimanded by the angel so we assume that his question was not in faith whereas Mary asked just because she wanted to know. You know what they say about assuming. (for anyone who has not heard before ‘it makes an ass of u and me’) The pastor was being a little hard on poor old Zach.
I’ll tell you what I think if you promise to remember that it is based on what I feel about the Characters not on deep scholarly research of some such.
First thing – think of the difference in your devotion to God as a teenager compared to your devotion as an adult. If you follow the normal path of spiritual development you devotion to God was probably at its strongest when you were a teenager. I heard a sermon that stood the verse ‘raise up a child in the way he should go so that when he is old he shall not depart from it’ on its head. The preacher made the point that it was when he was old that Solomon went bad and so on. There was more to the sermon of course but let me say thank you John Brownlee for pointing out that truth. I have seen it in my own life; when I was young I had the faith to move mountains but now not so much. Mary was a teenager but Zachariah had been through the ‘spiritual’ war. Zachariah was probably feeling very put upon by God. He was probably thinking of how faithful he had been to God his whole life and yet he had no son. Maybe he had begun to mistrust God’s motives or like some, he had been tempted to believe that God didn’t like him. So he questioned the angel – And got zapped for it.
Why did God strike Zachariah and not Mary. (Maybe God is like everyone else and he is easier on teenage girls than he is on old men. No that can’t be it.)Why did God even pick Zachariah if he didn’t have the faith to do the job? This is my answer. God knows how righteous old men feel. He knew Zach would raise the obvious questions. He also knew that the sweet innocent faithful Mary would also raise the obvious questions. Why Zap Zach? As with so much in the Bible there is a lesson for us. The lesson is to keep the faith. Don’t let your faith get weak just because your body is. So your balls don’t produce testosterone like they used to and so you are not as strong as you used to be, so you don’t have as much serotonin as you did so you are grumpier than you used to be, so what, that’s why it’s called faith. Second reason God Zapped Zach is to help fulfill the plan. Jesus was going to perform many miracles. He didn’t need a public miracle to attend his birth. (There were miracles at Bethlehem but Jesus did not grow up there. He grew up in Nazareth where the miracle that attended his birth probably had a negative affect) I’m sure that when John started preaching there were many who remembered the circumstances of his birth and nodded their heads ‘of course John is a prophet, how could he be anything else?’ Why did God even pick Zachariah if his faith wasn’t up to the job? Well it is my contention that his faith was up to the job it was just an old man’s faith not a teenager’s faith. It is my contention that Zachariah and Elizabeth were chosen as an act of mercy. God wanted parents of John who would be dead by the time John got his head cut off. God knows only too well how terrible it is to have a son die. So why did Mary live to see the crucifixion you may ask? I don’t know, maybe she was made of sterner stuff.
All of the above is just preamble. There is one lesson that I think stands out in the Zachariah, Elizabeth and John story. Zachariah and Elizabeth may have been sore at God or not. Maybe they were bearing their lives with cheerful faithfulness while God waited for them to get old enough to raise a future martyr. Like I’ve said many times, I can’t read God’s mind. But this is what the story means to me. When Zachariah first saw John I know he felt blessed as no man has felt blessed before or since. At that moment, Zachariah pitied Solomon for his paltry wealth and Samson for his measly strength. At that moment Zachariah felt that God owed him nothing for his faithfulness. And the take away lesson for us is “your best days may be behind you but your best blessings may lie ahead”.