December 19th, 2012
Advent Devotional by Joy Fallon
When Zechariah is told by Angel Gabriel that he and his aged, barren wife Elizabeth will bear a son, we treat this as an applause line, miraculous good news! But think of the terrifying changes that lie ahead for Zechariah. As any older parent knows, this new father will be thrilled with his infant, but he also will be exhausted every day, weary to his bones. Zechariah’s longstanding relationship with his wife will suddenly shift, as the baby becomes their focus. Money carefully saved for retirement will be needed to pay the midwife, to feed a voracious teen, to secure Hebrew lessons from the rabbi. The angel’s “good” news is terrifying, because of all the changes that lie ahead.
Worse, Zechariah will need to let go of his fondest dreams for this son. My guess is that at least part of the reason Zechariah had so yearned for a son all these years, is that that child could inherit a place in the priestly order of Abijah, the special honor passed generation to generation, that entitles Zechariah and his lineage to attend to God in the temple. It is a high privilege, a wondrous thing, to serve God by leading worship in the Temple Sanctuary, where few may enter. Zechariah is ready to pass on to his child all that he has learned over many years of the special rituals and songs central to the life of a priest.
But Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, will not serve God in the same way. Both father and son may pray for the others repentance, but John will abandon the majestic Temple to roam in the wilderness. Zechariah intones special words for purification rites, but John will dunk people in a river. Zechariah appeals to an invisible God through offerings of incense, but John will look directly into the eye of a man he calls Lord, God enfleshed.
What parent would not initially recoil at the vision of foreign, radical departures from tradition, when the tradition is undeniably rooted in centuries of faithful devotion to the Creator of the Universe? No wonder God gave Zechariah a time of quiet to reflect, to prepare for the change God envisioned. Letting go of our own dreams, to allow God’s to occur, is tough sledding.
Dear God, In this Advent season, open us – as individuals and as your church — wide enough to receive Your gifts of life, however different they are from our prayerfully formulated expectations. Amen.