Scott Sanders launches our Advent series by getting lost in the bush and finding the humble path - at expense of his pride.
Michelle Farrall is the Director of Future Leader Group – an organisation cultivating emotionally intelligent leaders and culturally aware teams – and a valued member of the Common Grace board.
Today's reading is Luke 1:5-25
Remember the brand ‘No Fear’? It was all about extreme sports and living on the edge. If you had a ‘No Fear’ bumper sticker, it proved you had complete control. Fear was for losers. The ‘No Fear’ tribe was stoic. Strong. Impenetrable.
I’ve sometimes fallen into the trap of feeling like, as a Christian seeking justice, I need to be in the ‘No Fear’ tribe. To squash down any hint of vulnerability. To put on the mask and show I’ve got it all together and I’m changing the world on my own just fine, thank you very much.
But, quite frankly, it’s exhausting.
So it’s a relief to read in this passage with Zechariah, that the angel isn’t saying ‘No Fear’, but rather ‘Fear Not’. He realises that showing up out of nowhere to impart a word from the Lord to a guy – even a noble priest – is a terrifying experience. He’s not saying, ‘Suck it up’ and ‘Stay in control’. Instead, he’s letting Zechariah know that he is safe. God is about to say and do something revolutionary.
But I have a hunch that even while hearing those calming two words ‘Fear not’, Zechariah was very much freaking out.
Fear that he and Elizabeth were too old.
Fear that they might get their hopes up and be let down. Again.
Fear (I’m pretty sure) of parenting a teenager who could never drink wine!
Because, Gabriel is laying out a plan that completely defies all logic. It would be an absolute miracle. It would be God breaking out of the box.
So why wouldn’t the human response be: What? How? No way!
And then, SILENCE.
Zechariah is silenced for the entire pregnancy. Smooth move, Gabriel.
Nothing like being struck down by silence to make you really confront your fears, anxieties and the creative ways you’ve managed to box God in.
Ah, silence. How I loathe thee.
It’s still early days for me, but I’m learning to just be quiet. To reflect and be honest about when I have let fear stop me from stepping into what God is up to. Fear of the other. Fear of what people will think. Fear of hopes being dashed when injustice still dominates, despite my best efforts.
In the silence, God speaks. And I am trying to pause long enough to listen.
In the silence, I’m learning to ‘Fear Not’. To trust God.
In the silence, the revolution is bubbling up.
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The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 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.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”