18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Zechariah is a pretty normal figure in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story. He is a good guy. Luke will even tell us that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are righteous. They are good church-going people. They are faithful but not extraordinary. They do their duty. They are older and never had children. They bear the burden of this barrenness with little comment, with faithful resignation.
These ordinary lives are exploded by Christmas hope. In order to prepare the way for Mary and for Jesus, God gives this ordinary, unassuming couple a baby. Elizabeth will support Mary and their child will support Jesus. Better, barrenness will be made fruitful! Their home will be blessed with the gift of a child’s laughter! In this invasion of Christmas, the angel Gabriel comes to tell Zechariah the good news.
I love Zechariah’s response. First, he is in awe of the angel and all that the angel has to say. Then, he pushes back… just a little. “Are you sure? We are getting a bit old for this.” He and Elizabeth had resigned themselves to the way life is quite some time ago.
In my opinion, Gabriel over-reacts just a bit. “Really? You are going to question me on this? I just came here from the presence of God! Yes, this is happening. And if you can’t be a bit more thankful and hopeful in response, then I don’t want you saying anything.” And Zechariah is struck dumb so that his doubts are restrained, and he is free to contemplate the hope that is overcoming his faithful resignation.
I see myself readily in Zechariah. He is not doubting God. He is doubting himself… his life. Would God really lavish such blessing upon Elizabeth and him? Does God really bring real hope to us on Christmas?
We get used to our lives of faithful resignation. We know the ways that life is tough. We have learned to accommodate the pain, the difficulty, to try our best to carve out lives of faith. We limit our fight and our passion to the things we can do. We work hard. We sweep our own front porch.
But Christmas hope comes to explode our ordinary lives. It sweeps us up into good news that lavishes from the very presence of God. Do we hear it? Will we push back? Or will we spend some time this Christmas contemplating the hope that will overcome all of our faithful resignation?
Jesus, thank you for the hope of Christmas. Thank you for the ways that you do not leave us alone in our ordinarily faithful lives. Help us to see and welcome the lavish gift of Jesus stepping into our world. In Jesus’ name, amen.