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THIRD WEDNESDAY OF ADVENT
SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:5-25
In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.
Once when he was serving as priest
in his division's turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord."
Then Zechariah said to the angel,
"How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
And the angel said to him in reply,
"I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time."
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.
Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.
After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
"So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others."
I have always loved Advent (and Lent) from the time I was a child. As I was growing up, I knew I was an odd duck because unlike other kids who were excited about Christmas and Santa, I was excited that it was Advent. I used to think it was simply because I loved the traditions and rituals of the season. As I’ve continued to grow and mature, I’ve realized yes, its tradition but more importantly it’s a season of preparation, a season preparing for the hope, the peace, the joy of the Good News. Advent is a season that reminds us God promises that He will always be with us and care for us in His loving arms. All we need to do is expectantly await Him, and He will be there waiting for us.
I want to say I’m someone who radiates joy, hope, and peace from the very essence of my being. Sometimes I am. More often I’m not. My hope has always been a more hesitant hope. I’m going to celebrate something good, but I know that means something terrible must be coming sooner than later. Heck, that’s been my life experience, right? Something good happens, and I say, “This is going to be my year.” Then a month later something terrible happens, and I’m totally crushed and in the depths of sadness and darkness. I’ve recently been in one of these moments. Almost simultaneously, I had a moment in which God’s abundant providence was so evident and I could not praise Him more for what He has done for me. And days later a situation arises that I can’t see a way out of. All I see is despair. It leaves me questioning, “How could this happen when God has brought me this far? He made all things come together for my good. It had to be the work of God for all this to happen. He did all that for what - for everything to fall apart?” As I was talking (to be honest crying) through my situation with a friend, he reminded me that the beauty of being a person of faith is that we know there is hope for the hopeless. (OK, Lord - I get what you’re trying to teach me this Advent.)
As I was reading today’s readings, what immediately struck me is that when an angel appears in both readings, it’s a “terrible” and “fearful” experience to the recipients. Why? Their prayers are being answered. Well I think their fear comes from a place of being overwhelmed. First of all, an angel is standing in front of them. Secondly, it’s a lot to believe.
When we look at today’s Gospel, most of us can relate to Zechariah. He’s in a hopeless situation, and he keeps praying. When his prayer is answered, he doesn’t believe. He questions. He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. And Gabriel simply says believe it because God sent me to give you the good news. There’s nothing else you need to know.
Yes, our life is going to be filled with lots of up and plenty of downs. When we objectively sit back, I think we can say life is filled with more ups than downs. We choose to focus on those downs and make them seem bigger and more frequent than their reality. If we are truly going to be a Christmas people, we won’t live life with hesitancy waiting for the other shoe to drop. We will always expect hope. There is hope for the hopeless because God promised that to us. And He is a man of his word. After all, He is the WORD. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
When do you feel hopeless?
What are some recent ways that you have seen God fulfill His promises to you?
When your hesitantly hopeful, what are some things you can do to change your heart position to expectant hope?
Julie Trzebiatowski is the Camp Director for Shepherd’s Fold Ranch in Avent, Oklahoma. She has been a teacher, retreat facilitator and Girl Scout Camp Leader