During this time of the year during advent, I think about Zechariah. His story stretches my imagination to picture what these scenes looked like. I wonder what would I have thought? How would I have responded? Would I be afraid? Would I believe? What was God up to, before, during the waiting, with the doubts? What was His plan for this special son?
So Zechariah went about priestly business as required and lived his priestly duties—a high calling—while God Himself had not spoken to his people some message for 400 years? How did Zechariah stay involved, stay true and obey the tasks assigned to him, with awe and respect and the precision the job required? And, if merit counts, he had lived righteous, blameless, and followed the commands of God. If God was silent, and silent often feels like “far away,” who was around to hold up his arms, to keep him going, to help him stay faithful in his assigned priestly task?
Just a word. One word. After all, a word can go so far. Just a, “Thank you. I notice you. You're doing a good job.” God could have given a little positive reinforcement to a faithful servant just to remind him He was there. So Zechariah works and waits. But on that particular special day, while he was serving as priest, when he was on duty, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord (8-9). Sounds something like… at just the right time, something unusual, something pre-planned, something other, something special was going on.
An angel suddenly appeared. We read the story… “Do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard, your wife will bear you a son.” And we get some wonderful details about the story, what is promised and what transpires. The promise really comes true.
That's the snapshot. But, the birds eye view: God's far reaching, overarching, wise, all knowing sovereignty takes over this whole story. He was there during those 400 years, as much as He was there the very day He talked to Zechariah. Silence feels uncaring, forgotten, estranged. Silence tends to give us way too much time to think, our thoughts twist and turn, spiral down, and can leave us totally believing in non-truths. That's only from our side. God side is immeasurably more vast. He sees big picture, unique opportunities, long lasting patience, creative solutions. Just like Zechariah's current circumstances, no child, barren, advanced in years, only showed one side of what was going on. God was working. God had a time frame. God was lining the details up. God was telling a story.
Who would choose 400 years of silence? Who would choose to keep doing his job as assigned while waiting, trying not to lose hope, that he might sometime again hear from God. So, the promise of a son filled with the Holy Spirit from birth turning many children of Israel to the Lord their God, and to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. God answered. The fulfillment of the promise from even Malachi 4 shows the breadth and width of the love of God to carry out in perfect timing the fulfillment of a prophet's words hundreds of years before. God is there. He sees, He orchestrates, He weaves, and at just the right time, He reveals it.
I think it's notable, that when Zechariah proclaims after the birth of his son, he uses words like, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” and, “because of the tender mercy of our God.” Not words of frustration, “God finally gave in,” or, “God finally relented,” or, “when He felt like it, God revealed what He was doing.” But rather, “it was the tender mercy of God at work… all this time, at just the right time, just the right way, this God spoke, promised, and revealed what He was doing all along.” That is tender. That is merciful. God's sovereignty is not stiff, formulated, restrictive, far away, uncaring, but in it's vastness we see He is so wise, so creative, so perfect, so above us, so very loving.
I have learned His sovereignty is so much bigger and wider that I can imagine, and that He is so worth being trusted to lay it out, how He wants, orchestrate it His own way, and as it unfolds in some physical and spiritual way around us, we can catch a glimpse of God we have never seen before. It touches me, moves me, and makes me love Him more. He can be trusted for the things that concern us, for the places that seem impossible and for the times He seems silent.
“Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The story of Zechariah is the story of God.