Waiting Prayers from the Christmas Story
I remember the time I first realized how much the Christmas story revolves around prayer. I hadn't seen it before. But once that came to my attention, I wondered how I had missed it for so long. There are prayers of willing obedience, of praise and blessing, of meditation, of petition for guidance. But I think the prayers I like the most in the whole Christmas story are those of Zacharias and Elizabeth—maybe because I can identify with them.
They had prayed long and hard. But they received no answer. All their married life they had prayed for a child. The seasons turned one by one, the years slipped by. How many times had they fought back tears as they took a meal or a gift to one of their friends in the village who had had a newborn baby? Still they prayed, hoping, hoping, always hoping . . . until their fertile years were passed. No child had come.
Were they disappointed with God? Did they struggle with the seeming injustice of it all? They had lived faithful, upright lives out of devotion to God, yet He did not answer their prayers. Surely they could see others around them who were care-less toward God, but God gave them children. Why was there no child for this devout couple? Did they search their hearts in the vain attempt to uncover some hidden sin they'd been blind to? How often had they cried before God, pouring out their hearts to Him?
We're not told all that they struggled with internally. But we can certainly imagine. Yet through all the questions and heartache, they never turned their backs on God, deciding it wasn't worth it to serve God. No, they continued on, faithful to their life work and calling, faithful to live obedient to God's revealed will.
Then, while performing his duties in the temple, Zacharias is visited by an angel. Zacharias reacted as all people did when confronted with an angel: he was terrified. The angel calmed his fears then told him that his prayers had been heard. I John 5 says that if we know that God hears us, we know that we have what we have asked of Him. This was certainly the case with Zacharias, for the angel went on to tell him that his wife was going to have a son.
The rest of the dialogue between the angel and Zacharias indicates that the aging couple had given up on their prayers for a child. I guess they figured that God's answer to this prayer was "No." So they'd buried their hopes along with their prayers. But hope dies hard in the human heart, even when we know circumstances are beyond hope.
Zacharias didn't want his hopes resurrected and dashed again. So he voiced doubt in the angelic promise. I love his honesty; he is so much like we are when it comes to prayer. But if you see angelic glory and are given a special message sent directly from the throne of God, it's best not to question it.
That journey from Jerusalem back to his hometown to tell his wife Elizabeth the news must have been the longest miles he'd ever traveled. How would she react? Would she also doubt? Would she fear to hope again? But God had promised. And His Word is ever true.
I've often wondered what Elizabeth thought about during those first five months of her pregnancy when she stayed in isolation. Was her self-imposed solitude to protect her baby from anything possibly going wrong? Or did she just need time to process before God all of those praying years of disappointment? I would guess she needed time to readjust her perception of things.
God had heard their prayers all along. He had not turned a deaf ear or been too concerned with larger world matters to attend to their small needs. He was waiting through all their years of heartache for a greater purpose that they could not see—in fact, the greatest purpose, the one they'd all been waiting for over long ages of time—the coming of the Messiah. To think that their son would be the forerunner! Far from ignoring their prayers, God planned to entrust them with one of the most magnificent privileges of all time.
How often our faith gets dashed on the rocks of our timeframes. But when the answer to our prayers seems beyond hope, that's when God can do His greatest work. He specializes in the miraculous. Keep praying. Don't give up. God's timetable may not match ours. Thank you, Zacharias and Elizabeth, for teaching us to remain steadfast, serving the Lord, trusting His timing.