Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.
Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.
Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.
Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Luke 2:19-20 VOICE
My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.
She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.
I’ve pondered too.
“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).
When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.
I was forced to make a decision.
I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?
After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.
I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.
I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.
But she held on.
And the Lord called her blessed.
I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.
Sometimes my faith wears thin.
But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.
We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
How has child loss impacted your faith?
The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?
You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.
But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.
Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!
Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.
Today’s verses may seem an odd choice as a stand-alone source for an Advent devotional.
But when you dig a little deeper, they are a beautiful affirmation of how God used ordinary people to bring about His extraordinary purposes.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were two humble and obedient Jews living their lives according to the Law. As a priest, Zechariah was responsible to serve in the Temple two weeks of every year. He’d been faithfully doing his duty for years. Elizabeth had done hers too.
But they were fruitless. Elizabeth was barren. And barren women (in those days) were considered cursed.
And then something amazing happened.
Zechariah, chosen by lot, seemingly random, is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense before the Lord. A sacred trust, a holy encounter representing the prayers of all Israel and especially those positioned outside in the temple courtyard.
“5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”
Luke 1: 5-10 NIV
We will stop here for today although I’m sure most of you know where our story is going.
I’m glad to take things a little slow. Because when I race through verses full of detail I tend to miss important insights. And there are several in these words that help my heart.
Doing my daily duty can be pretty boring.
Living a life of faithful obedience sometimes becomes a burden. And when obedience doesn’t lead to blessing but perhaps even to pain I can lose heart.
Luke reminds me that being precisely where God wants me to be doing exactly what He’s called me to do may lead to unimagined and unanticipated blessing.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea that their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem would change everything.
But it did.
And that was just the beginning.
Do you ever tire of daily routine, regular responsibility? Does this passage challenge that attitude?
Scripture teaches that God is in control even when it seems like chance rules. Is that a comforting thought? Why or why not?
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story echoes that of Abraham and Sarah. An old couple, past the age of childbearing whom God blesses with not just any child but a child of promise. How does their story once again that God is the God of the impossible and improbable?
Prayer is likened to incense throughout the Bible. I sometimes like to light a scented candle in the still dark early morning hours when I talk to God. Do you have any physical representations that help your heart connect with the Father?
I admit it-sometimes I’m just flat out tired of doing what’s expected of me. Dishes and laundry and ordinary work are dull and hardly rewarding. Obedience takes self-control. I’m not always interested in being who I ought to be especially when I feel like maybe there’s no upside to sacrificing fun for duty.
Even worse, I feel cheated when I’ve been a “good girl” and still not received the desire of my heart. In fact, the desire of my heart has been snatched away.
Help me feel Your Presence speaking courage and strength to my soul when I grow weary of doing well. Help me show up every time and everywhere You want me to be. Let the truth that there is no better place to be than in the center of Your will sink deep into my spirit.
You have a plan and You work through perfectly ordinary people to bring it to life. Who knows? It might be me doing my daily duty that impacts eternity. Thank You for inviting me to be part of the Eternal Story.
The question is starting to pop up with greater frequency in our closed bereaved parent groups: How do you make it through the holidays after child loss?
So for the next few days I’m going to share again from the many posts I’ve written in the past five years addressing different aspects of holiday planning, celebration, family dynamics and just plain survival for grieving parents, siblings and those who love them.
Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.
We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive. Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.
For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.
Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…