Preparing the Way

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, I find myself trying to find rest in a season that’s notoriously wrought with materialism, busyness, and exhaustion.

This year I am determined to focus on what really matters during the Christmas season. I want to prepare my heart and mind to focus on the birth of Christ and savor what Christmas really means.

One way I’ve chosen to do this is by participating in the Advent reading plan below.

Todays reading was in John. I didn’t get past the first verse before I stopped to do a little digging on the text.


“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”

Who was John?

According to the text, he was a man sent from God.

That little question and answer session in my brain made me dig a little deeper into John’s story.

It turns out that John‘s birth was a bit of a miracle. His parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, were well past child bearing years. In other words, they were old.

Somehow, probably while in a hurry to read through this passage in the past, I missed the treasures to be found in John’s story through his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the division of priests named after Abijah. Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth had God’s approval. They followed all the Lord’s commands and regulations perfectly. Yet, they never had any children because Elizabeth couldn’t become pregnant. Both of them were too old to have children.
Zechariah was on duty with his division of priests. As he served in God’s presence, he was chosen by priestly custom to go into the Lord’s temple to burn incense. All the people were praying outside while he was burning incense.
Then, to the right of the incense altar, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Zechariah was troubled and overcome with fear.
The angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you will name him John. He will be your pride and joy, and many people will be glad that he was born. As far as the Lord is concerned, he will be a great man. He will never drink wine or any other liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring many people in Israel back to the Lord their God. He will go ahead of the Lord with the spirit and power that Elijah had. He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children. He will change disobedient people so that they will accept the wisdom of those who have God’s approval. In this way he will prepare the people for their Lord.”
Zechariah said to the angel, “What proof is there for this? I’m an old man, and my wife is beyond her childbearing years.”
The angel answered him, “I’m Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence. God sent me to tell you this good news. But because you didn’t believe what I said, you will be unable to talk until the day this happens. Everything will come true at the right time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah. They were amazed that he was staying in the temple so long. When he did come out, he was unable to speak to them. So they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. He motioned to them but remained unable to talk.
When the days of his service were over, he went home. Later, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and didn’t go out in public for five months.

Luke 1:5-24

The book of Luke records that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were righteous, God-honoring people, but they never had children.

Burning incense in the Holy Place was the honor of a lifetime. It was during that time that the angel, Gabriel, made his appearance to Zechariah. Knowing God, the time and place of this encounter probably wasn’t a coincidence.

Gabriel told Zechariah that his prayers had been answered. God had chosen him and Elizabeth to bear a son who would be the forerunner of the promised Messiah (verses 13–17). They were to name him John, and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit and dedicated to the Lord’s service even before birth. Wow, what a message!

Instead of rejoicing, this faith filled, obedient priest had a crisis of faith. He basically told Gabriel, “I am an old man and my wife is old, too. It would be impossible for us to have a baby.” Reality had overtaken his ability to believe what he had hoped for so long and now felt was impossible.

Who needs television when the Bible is so rich with drama?

Back to the story …

So Gabriel brings this message, Zechariah is in disbelief, and his unbelief rendered him mute until the child was born. Oh the consequences for sin …

Fast forward 9 months. Just as Gabriel said, Elizabeth gives birth to a son (you can read the rest in Luke 1:57-80).

So picture this – Zechariah has been mute for 9 months. I figured the only real way he had to communicate would have been sign language or a writing tablet, which would have caused Zechariah to receive quite a bit of attention. For 9 months. It probably gave him a lot of time to think and listen, too.

Gabriel said Elizabeth would bring a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. They were to consecrate their son as a servant of God and were to name him John. And when the time came to name the boy, Zechariah and Elizabeths friends and family were pressuring them to name the boy John (family drama hasn’t changed much. It’s in the Bible and it’s in our world today).

Not about to make another mistake, Zechariah was quick to settle any doubt.

“His name is John.”

When the child was eight days old, they went ⌞to the temple⌟ to circumcise him. They were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother spoke up, “Absolutely not! His name will be John.”
Their friends said to her, “But you don’t have any relatives with that name.”
So they motioned to the baby’s father to see what he wanted to name the child. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” Everyone was amazed.

Luke 1:59-63

Zechariah teaches us some pretty valuable life lessons.

First, don’t let your reality cause unbelief.

Zechariah loved and honored God, but when it came time for God to do something impossible, he lacked faith. His story is just another example that nothing is too hard for God.

Second, we grow through what we go through.

Zachariah, once able to speak again, praised God in the form of a song. His words show a change of heart and a faith that had grown during the nine months of muteness.

God‘s plans seldom look like our own. His ways are not our own, but they are always best. Zachariah not only got a son, he got a prophet whose name is forever linked to the life of Jesus.

So how does all of this tie in to preparing my heart and mind for Jesus this holiday season?

I’d like to believe that this Christmas will be different, that I can be different as I slow down and take in all the miracles of His coming … and I believe that making a time and a place for quiet worship during the weeks leading up to Christmas will bring treasures that can’t be found in the worlds chaotic version of Christmas.

“Praise the Lord God of Israel!
He has come to take care of his people
and to set them free.
He has raised up a mighty Savior for us
in the family of his servant David.
He made this promise through his holy prophets long ago.
He promised to save us from our enemies
and from the power of all who hate us.
He has shown his mercy to our ancestors
and remembered his holy promise,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham.
He promised to rescue us from our enemies’ power
so that we could serve him without fear
by being holy and honorable as long as we live.
“You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High.
You will go ahead of the Lord to prepare his way.
You will make his people know that they can be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.
A new day will dawn on us from above
because our God is loving and merciful.
He will give light to those who live in the dark
and in death’s shadow. He will guide us into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:68-79

Ps … if you want to follow the Advent reading plan, you can go to:

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