“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” (Luke 1:13–14, NASB95)
Taking some extra time to work on some upcoming sermons I decided through this Christmas season to take a break from John and focus on an annual traditional in our home, which is the reading of Advent passages. And starting a few days late with today being a special day in our home I thought about how to bring together the special celebration of today with the previous days of our Advent readings. So, what I decided to do was to jump into day two and build through day four, coming back to day one very soon. Hopefully you are not confused by this point and give up, but I think you are in for a treat as we look to the incredible gifts of God to two different families.
Having had five sons, my wife (Robin) and I found out in 2006 that we were going to have another special blessing in our home. As time progressed and ultrasounds and nausea (not mine, but Robin’s) proved out we knew in advance that our sixth child was going to be very different from the rest. This time we were having a girl. All of the years of raising boys were going to change as God was bringing a precious little girl into our home. Of course, like many couples we had a name we favored but had yet been unable to use. But after so many years of holding on to this other name we realized that it was not going to be the name of our new daughter.
In discussing the different name possibilities we quickly came to a point that we agreed her name was unquestionably going to be “Elizabeth.” When it came to her middle name we had a bit more waiting and thinking to do. But even this didn’t take long before Robin and I both came up independently with the same middle name which was “Joy.” For me the process at arriving at her middle name included reading about the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, and in particular reading in Luke chapter 1 about Zechariah and Elizabeth the parents of John, who would become known as John the Baptist.
Advent Reading for Day 2: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.” (Luke 1:5–7, NASB95)
I read in verses 5-7 of this couple who were upright before God and committed to Him both in service and righteous living. In these verses we read that this godly couple had no children though they had dearly wanted them. All of their years Elizabeth had been unable to conceive and at this point their age had caught up with them. This was intriguing to me as I thought about another father and mother who had been promised a son who would be a blessing, but who did not have that son until they also were very advanced in years (Abraham and Sarah). And I could not help thinking of Robin and myself as we were expecting not our first child, but a child nonetheless just short of my fiftieth birthday with Robin not many years behind. Some even poked fun at me in this, but I enjoyed the fun as I really looked forward to the birth of yet another child.
This new dad, Zechariah, was a priest among many priests of Israel. We read in these verses that his division’s time for service, which came twice a year, had come. This time Zechariah was chosen by lot (as if God really have permitted anyone else to be chosen) to enter the temple and burn incense as a fragrant offering to God on behalf of the people. As he did this our passage tells us that many people were outside waiting in prayer. This is how it had been done since Moses with the priest going in, burning the incense, and then coming back out to pronounce a blessing.
Advent Reading for Day 3: “Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.” (Luke 1:8–10, NASB95)
This is the setting that brings us to our annual December 4th reading: “And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”” (Luke 1:11–14, NASB95)
While in the temple an angel of the Lord (identified later in verse 19 as Gabriel) appeared to Zechariah. The angel stood at the right side of the altar of incense, and when Zechariah saw him he (Zechariah and not the angel) was startled. Being startling is easy to understand as only one priest was permitted to enter, and for anyone else to be there would have been unheard of. But there stood another individual. And this individual was not just anyone, but was probably easily identified as an angel of God because our passage also tells us that Zechariah was gripped with fear. This was no mere human before him. As Zechariah stood there trembling the angel the angel spoke to calm him down and then proceeded to tell him that his prayer had been heard.
The angel told him that his prayer was both heard and answered in that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a son. I don’t know what prayer Zechariah might have immediately thought God had heard, but I seriously doubt that it was the one that the angel spoke of, and it surely was not an answer that Zechariah was expecting. I suspect that Zechariah might have given up on this prayer some time beforehand thinking that their hope of having a child was long past. But this was the news the angel had for him, and the answer was coming in God’s perfect time. Elizabeth was going to give him a son and his name was going to be John.
Then we read that this long hoped for son was going to be a “joy and delight” to his parents. And beyond that he was going to be used of God to cause many to rejoice because of his birth. He truly was going to be great in the sight of the Lord. Can you imagine being told that your child was going to grow up loving God and impacting people for him? They had given their lives to God and now God was blessing them with a child who would do even more—a joy to his parents and a blessing to many.
Upon reading this it was settled in my heart that my desire was that our Elizabeth’s middle name be “Joy.” And I was so happy to hear that Robin had been led to the same name though for different reasons. So, then came the waiting and the waiting. Beth was not born on her due date. She was not even born in her due month. She finally was born on December 4th when the doctor stepped in to move things along. And as I read our Advent calendar readings for 2006 (a bit delayed for obvious reasons) I saw that this very passage was the one that we would read year and after year on the anniversary of our Elizabeth Joy’s birth.
Our God is so incredibly amazing, and His blessings to us are far more abundant than we could ever count or measure. This includes the greatest joys such as this and His strong hand in our greatest hurts. Our prayer for Beth, as for all of our children and now grand-children, is that they would know God, be known for their walk with Him, and be a blessing to many as their lives prove God’s work in them.