FOUR THINGS TO GIVE UP BEFORE 2017

…with God’s empowering.

AN OFFENDABLE HEART.
It will take an excellent forgiver. The more you receive God’s free forgiveness through Christ Jesus, the more you can release it to others. Warning: harder to forgive ongoing offenses than one-time offenses. God’s forgiveness covers OUR ongoing offenses, so we can be empowered to apply it in others. You are helped by the mercy found in the cross of Jesus. Not releasing forgiveness to those you think don’t deserve it will torment you more than them (Matthew 18:35). Bad idea. Stick with option A.

HARD WORK WITHOUT FUN.
Pharisees know how to squeeze the fun out of life. Religious without being righteous. Not close to entertaining. Jesus knew how to have fun so much that they accused Him of being a drunkard. His disciples were on the sober side, so He told them to take their cue from children, not from stuffy religious people. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). That is good news. Don’t make it heavier by adopting an all too serious outlook. Heaven is going to be ridiculously fun. Start preparing now!

A VICTIM MENTALITY.
We have all been victimized, but we don’t need to live like one. Jesus, victimized more than anyone, lived and died as a victor. Follow His lead and be empowered by His outlook. Victims give up their future. They live as if nothing will change. They’re right! They want you to feel sorry for them. If you don’t, they check you off their list of commiserating friends. Be a real friend; call them to their destiny in God. Don’t let them stay in their hole–and don’t join them. YOU ARE NOT A VICTIM.

INGRATITUDE.
Thankfulness releases grace. Thank the people you live with for putting up with you. Thank your teachers and mentors for believing in you. Thank those who bug you for helping you grow. Thank your kids for their obedience. Thank your parents for all they did for you and ignore what they did NOT do. This actually works. It lightens your load, makes you fun to be with, and overcomes the victim spirit. Hey, all these things you’re giving up work together. Cool!

CONGRATULATIONS, MARY. YOU’RE EXPECTING!

Kill a whale–$20,000 fine. Disturb the nest of a bald eagle–$5000. How about disturbing the nest of a pre-born human? Zero. Try to stop others and you may go to jail.

Four teens in Texas were kicked off the cheerleading squad for being pregnant. One had an abortion and was allowed back. The women’s movement was in an uproar because the pregnant ones weren’t allowed.

America needs a different perspective. That comes from the Word of God, the only book which teaches infallibly how God views life–in the womb, in the world. Doctor Luke starts his gospel with two chapters of birth stories. His outlook on pre-born life and infancy is in great need today.

CHILDREN ARE WANTED.
Children are an asset, not a liability. Jesus started His human life the same way you did, by being implanted on the uterine wall of a woman, giving sanctity to the process from conception on.

Zechariah was praying for a child, though Elizabeth was “advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). News of a child set her heart dancing. Mary likewise praised the Lord who regarded her worthy to birth the Messiah. Both rejoiced at the news of their pregnancies, though it would mean suffering. Both children were killed in their early thirties. A survey indicated that 80% of American women said their pregnancy came at an inconvenient time. Pregnancies call for commitment. They are not a convenience.

GOD HAS THE BEST BIRTH CONTROL.
Ask Rachel and Leah, who played musical babies for several years running (Gen. 29,30). Or Hanna, who conceived in response to fervent prayer after years of barrenness (I Sam. 1). Ask Zechariah, whose prayer was finally heard. Consult the budget, consult the preferences, and consult God. Not an argument against human considerations but a plea to let God be God.

GOD MAKES PLANS FOR THE PRE-BORN.
Gabriel told both Zechariah and Mary not only the names of their babies but their careers as well. A baby in the womb has a God-appointed destiny–each one. New babies signal new beginnings. It is not just the child that has a new start. Karen and I agreed–babies change EVERYTHING.

PRE-BORN CHILDREN ARE STILL CHILDREN.
John was filed with the Spirit while growing inside Elizabeth. He leaped for joy when he got near Jesus, slightly a centimeter long in the womb of Mary. John was in his sixth month when he responded to the presence of his unborn relative. One normally does not ascribe emotional and physical responses to tissue. The psalmist said, “You knit me together in mother’s womb” (139:13). Then by what right do medical prostitutes dissect what the Creator has shaped? Jesus said, “As you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.” According to the Supreme Court, that child has no rights. A Higher Court has already overruled that verdict, and its decision stands! Women seeking abortions are not told that they are carrying children whose lives will be ended by a grotesque act of brutality. They are told that “the reproductive process will be terminated.” That is not fair to a woman, who may grieve for years.

PARENTING IS CRUCIAL.
God handpicked the parents for John and Jesus–and for us. God’s first command–”be fruitful and multiply.” The family is God’s idea. Right parenting means righteous living. The priestly couple qualified (Luke 1:6). So did the virgin Mary. But maybe you didn’t. Perhaps you chose an abortion. One girl said, “Postpartum blues are terrorizing. I wish I could reverse my action.” She can’t. But the God of hope who brings good out of evil comes not to condemn but to comfort. There is healing in the cross of that baby who came to die–for you! You have a destiny too!

LEARNING TO LISTEN TO GOD

Hearing God’s voice can prove difficult. Things were going well for Joseph. Then Mary delivered the news. He would have preferred hearing that she had died.

But God intervened. Joseph had already made a good decision by choosing a pure bride. Now he would make the hardest decision of his life.

“Joseph, son of David…” The angel identified his subject: “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Mary was telling the truth. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20,21). What looked like shame just turned to honor.

We assume the job of listening rests on our ability to hear. Scripture puts the ball in God’s court. The disturbing news that just destroyed his future had not tampered with God’s. Some truths surface about hearing:

One step at a time.
Don’t expect the entire scenario. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” He could do that. If you stand at point A, ask B questions. “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord.” You need the next step. Nothing more.

God’s will is good.
The angel said, “Do not be afraid,” because Joseph was terrorized by his option: “Divorce the lady.” God’s strategy proved just the opposite: “Marry your beloved and raise the Son of God as your own.” Fitting into the purpose of God does include suffering, but the presence of the Almighty gives purpose to pain.

God speaks with clarity.
“His sheep hear his voice.” The more confident we grow in God’s ability to speak, the more we will hear. By morning, Joseph knew what to do. Those who find themselves paralyzed by indecision need to act. Quit worrying that you might miss His “perfect” will and affirm that He lets you walk in it.

God’s messages are often counter-intuitive.
They don’t spring up in our minds as if created by interior logic. They sound more like God than us. When Joseph heard from the angel, he didn’t say, “I should have known that the Holy Spirit did this.” Yet those learning to walk in the Spirit find that their intuition begins to track with God’s will.

What God says agrees with what God said.
God proves the present word with a past one. He links destiny with history, making His will verifiable. Matthew adds his commentary: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’ ” (22,23).

Hearing means heeding.
To hear and not obey is not to hear. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (24).

We desperately need to hear from God—and desperate people do! Those more casual will turn guidance into a technique: “Give me three sure-proof steps,” while men like Joseph know it flows out of relationship.

The story could have read, “When Joseph woke up, he divorced Mary.” And he would have missed his God-appointed destiny. He obeyed—and Jesus called him “father.”

MARY CHRISTMAS!

Evangelicals need not hesitate. We don’t worship Mary, but we call her blessed, as the Bible does. The greatest thing in the world is to find favor with God. Mary did. If earned, it’s not grace.

Yet we do things to invite it. God resists the proud but graces the humble. How did Mary welcome grace?

SHE WAS PURE.
She chose virginity. You say, “All of them did back there.” Then you have not read the Old Testament. Purity is a decision—in any age. And she chose a pure husband. They lived together and travelled to Bethlehem, and she remained a virgin. Call it self-control.

When the angel told her she would bear the Messiah, she did not say, “Well, I had better get married quick.” She said, “I have no husband.” Simple—and holy. When God looks for a vessel through whom to bring His plan, He looks for a pure one. Mary was.

SHE WAS HUMBLE.
When greeted by the angel, she did not say, “About time someone recognized me.” Some think humility means ranking on yourself: “I can’t do that.” Oh, what a humble, self-effacing person. Wrong. Mary said, “All generations will call me blessed! Isn’t God wonderful?!” Humility puts God at the center, and let’s God be great—even in you.

SHE WAS OBEDIENT.
She said yes—when it would cost. She was pregnant, without a husband. And the one who already proposed almost dropped her. Some would rather compromise than lose a man.

Mary called herself “the Lord’s bondservant.” Here I am, at your service. No footnotes like, “Please share this with my parents, and work it out with Joseph.” Having a baby without a husband is fairly easy in our culture, not in theirs. You will pay, and Mary did.

Some look for ways to get permission. People like Mary look for ways to please God. Her question was not out of doubt like Zechariah. She just needed clarification—to surrender.

SHE WAS FULL OF PRAISE.
In the most moving meeting of two women ever, when Mary is being commended for believing the extraordinary, that she would have a child without a man, she deflected the applause toward heaven: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

It is not hard to complain in the face of suffering and disappointment. The first Christmas looked like anything but Christmas—no family, friends, warmth, or even a home. Yet this teenage woman lived full of praise: “He that is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Great people know they aren’t—but God is! I want to be like Mary. And even more, I want to be like Mary’s Son, Mary’s Lord!

DOES GOD HAVE FAVORITES?

God moves comfortably in the realm of the impossible. We, like the old priest, might look for reasons why something can’t happen. God found a girl prepared to sign on without fighting. Her brilliant input: “Let it be.” Spell it faith.

Luke sets her story right after Elizabeth’s. Her priestly husband’s response contrasts Mary’s. He received shocking news with skepticism. God has favorites—people He favors because they favor Him.

HIGHLY FAVORED
The back-to-back birth stories provide rich contrast. The senior couple prayed many years for a child, while Mary was still a virgin. The shame the elder couple felt in barrenness was lifted with the pregnancy, while shame came upon Mary when she began to show.

Even geography figures into the drama. The priest came from Judea, while Mary lived in Nazareth, a place of questionable reputation. Both participated in a miracle, one because of age, the other bypassing the normal route toward parenthood. A pregnant virgin is an oxymoron is there ever was one.

Both received visits from Gabriel, with five months intervening. Both women marveled at the grace of God shown them. And by divine action, both women carrying children marked for greatness came together at the home of Elizabeth. The young mother-to-be needed the strength her older relative could provide, but she had no idea how that encouragement would come—through prophetic proclamation of pinpoint accuracy.

Favor with God trumps the blessing of man, and that is how Mary towers above others. Elizabeth spoke appropriately and with volume, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 2:42,43).

She then closed her astounding message with yet more strength-giving words: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” This provided a stirring entrance into the song of Mary, words set to music ever since.

THE REAL FAVORITE
The spotlight now turned from the girl to the God who favored the girl, the God her Savior, whose “mercy extends to those who fear him,” as Mary certainly did, who “has performed mighty deeds with his arm,” who “has helped his servant Israel” through that mercy. It was being shown not just to a small nation but to the world, as the Mighty One sends His Child to be born of a virgin, whose birth will divide history, marshal armies, split up families and nations, and force a decision from every person who will ever live.

How should we honor Mary? Had the apostles wanted to assign her significance beyond what Elizabeth gave her, they would have given her mention in the rest of the New Testament. Their silence is telling. We can say what Elizabeth said and what she said herself. She is to be honored greatly for her faith and humility and for raising the Son of Man, and yet according to her own words, she is dwarfed by the true hero of heaven. We magnify the person Mary magnifies.

What impossibilities are staring you in the face today, challenging your circumstances, defying your peace, threatening your joy, mocking your future? How is God asking you to respond? The bottom line message from Mary is that she believed God. May you do the same—and walk in God’s favor!

DO YOU HAVE THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT?

The spirit of Christmas captures folks. Not sure what it is, but one reading of the Christmas story in Luke tells me that the spirit on that first Christmas was the Holy Spirit.

THE SPIRIT FILLS US.
The announcement came to Zechariah during his course of duty: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son…and many will rejoice at his birth…He will be great…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Lk. 1:13-15).

God had his eye on John before John had his eye on God. What would make this child great? His diet? Abstinence? Demeanor? No, his filling! It is the Spirit that makes people good—and great!

He would “turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord” (16). How? Persuasive preaching? No. “He will go before him [Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah” (17). The same Spirit empowers you and me. Incredible!

THE SPIRIT MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE.
Mary received the shocking news that she would have a baby. When she asked about it, the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing will be impossible with God” (35,37). Matthew wrote that “she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (1:18).

It didn’t look that way. What appeared as an unholy moment of passion proved the quiet work of the Spirit. People looked at her getting bigger and wondered, while she looked at God, who grew bigger in her eyes. When Mary asked, “How?” the angel said, “The Holy Spirit,” the answer to every human impossibility, including yours.

THE SPIRIT GRANTS US GIFTS.
Mary’s visit with an angel was followed by a visit to her relative. When Elizabeth heard her greeting, the Spirit moved upon her, the same Spirit that moved on John, still in her womb. He responded to the presence of Jesus, less than a month along. Elizabeth burst into prophecy. It was likely her first time ever. Nothing strange about a kick in the womb, but it was this time, because it was the Spirit moving, not just John. The Spirit does the same for us, turning a conversation into an encounter.

Meanwhile, Zechariah had a nine-month time-out. But when he opened his mouth after the naming of John, resisting tradition, he “was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” (Lk. 1:64,67). Before he had doubted. Now he spoke powerfully and prophetically. The Spirit that shut him up now welled up—in his body. Trust the Spirit to do the same in you.

THE SPIRIT LEADS US.
Simeon’s timing was right on. He came to the temple “moved by the Spirit” (Luke 2:27). How did that happen? ”The Holy Spirit was upon him” and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (26).

Were these people superstars? No, just common folks who yielded to the divine Spirit. Do you need the Lord’s leading—toward the right job, the right mate, the right decision. Paul says we prove we’re in the family by the way the Spirit leads us (Rom. 8:14).

The spirit of Christmas is more than a party with good friends. It is the Holy Spirit, filling us to cooperate with God’s redemptive purpose, to speak His truth and recognize His Son! Have a Spirit-filled Christmas!

THE MOST REMARKABLE ENCOUNTER OF TWO WOMEN–EVER!

Two visits by one angel, five month apart. Two people, an old man and a young woman, both devout. Two angelic proclamations about two sons. Good news, miraculous, unbelievable—a child past child-bearing years and a child without a husband. Never happened before or since. Two opposite responses to the incredible news.

Two sons destined for greatness, one the greatest of the Old Covenant and the other the greatest of the New Covenant, both named by heaven, bypassing traditional names: John (“the Lord is gracious”) and Jesus (“the Lord saves”). Two regions, Judea and Galilee. The priest needed to live near the temple at Jerusalem. Galilee would light up in thirty years like never before: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus was born in the south and ministered in the north.

Two women, one barren, one a virgin. For the first, the news would lift the shame she felt her whole adult life. For the second, the shame would commence when she began carrying a child.

Two impossible pregnancies facilitated by the moving of the Holy Spirit on their bodies, both including prophetic words by the mothers when the sons met in Judea—still in the womb. Both sons who would change history, the one serving the other as a forerunner, yet knowing Jesus came before.

Joseph had himself heard from an angel, so he took Mary into his home. But now after her angelic visitation, she told Joseph she needed strength from a motherly figure who would understand, whom she found out was also carrying a miracle.

Mary could be stoned for what appeared like adultery. God’s miracles can masquerade behind “mistakes.” They also hide behind impossibilities. Both women were graced by heaven but disgraced on earth, one before the baby came, the other during and after.

Important truths:
SUFFERING NEEDS TO BE STEWARDED WELL. It will shape our character and release the gifts of the Spirit if we do not allow resentment to color our perception of God: Elizabeth said, “Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” less than a centimeter long in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth’s remarkable recognition of Mary’s baby came out of the fires of affliction.

HUMILITY RELEASES GRACE that releases the activity of the Spirit. Elizabeth recognized that her task was dwarfed by a far greater assignment of being the mother of the Messiah. Her humility gave her revelation of the purposes of God. She could have made the moment about herself. If you want to prophesy well, suffer well and stay low.

GOD HAS CHARGE OF THE WOMB. He works His divine will without checking probabilities. “Against all hope Abraham in hope believed…” With God, it is not as it appears.

WE GIVE IT ALL TO JESUS. Mary said, “I am the Lord’s bondservant. Let it be to me according to your word,” another way of saying, “Jesus can use my body. A man who owned a donkey said, “Jesus can use my colt.” A woman said, “He can use my alabaster box.” Another said, “Jesus can use my grave.” What can we offer Jesus? Our car, our home, our gifting, our position? Use us, Jesus!

THE LATE LIZ

A couple is getting married, expecting a family. They won’t have one—for about fifty years. Would you tell them? Heaven didn’t. For an all-powerful God, He sure is quiet.

God graced Zechariah and Elizabeth for special blessings. People interpreted no baby as dis-grace. “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” The next word is “but.” Having children is a good thing. Childlessness was regarded as divine displeasure. Just two of them–a quiet household.

But the neighbors weren’t. Liz was assigned the “B” word, “barren”—unfruitful, sterile, as in “barren land.” And what did God do? Zechariah had prayed for years. It’s not what God did—it’s what He didn’t—answer their prayers or tell them what was happening. The silence of heaven can be hard.

Most likely Zechariah regretted his inappropriate question. He asked for a sign—and got it, a nine-month time-out. Liz went on a silent retreat herself: “After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion” (Luke 1:24). She said, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people”(25). Elizabeth was discredited, but that was changing. The hide-away produced evidence that quieted brutal tongues.

Then Gabriel was sent eighty miles north to a young girl instead of an old man. What Elizabeth deduced by virtue of pregnancy, the favor of God, Gabriel spoke to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (28). Gabriel announced what Mary didn’t know: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age…For nothing is impossible with God” (36,37).

God is orchestrating this event. “In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth” (1:26). Right on schedule. Elizabeth is coming out of seclusion. A month earlier Mary would have missed her. Now she travels south.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’” (41-45).

In place of disgrace–incredible revelation; she received God’s plan for her young relative. Rather than concentrating on herself, she now blessed the life in Mary’s womb and the mother of that Child. She counted herself privileged to be in the company of One to whom she would bow, though that Child was only two centimeters. She dares to call Him “my Lord.” God revealed it in a moment—as quick as a kick. This is the most remarkable encounter of two women to ever.

What can Elizabeth teach us?
We trust God’s unwavering character and sovereign plan when we don’t see it. This is not a time for anger.
We look for miracles masquerading behind impossibilities.
The level of our shame is matched by the level of God’s grace—in the very place of our humiliation.
Suffering, stewarded well, produces sterling character, heightened revelation, and growth in gifting. Sounds good to me!

THE LATE LIZ

A couple is getting married, expecting a family. They won’t have one—for about fifty years. Would you tell them? Heaven didn’t. For an all-powerful God, He sure is quiet.

God graced Zechariah and Elizabeth for special blessings. People interpreted no baby as dis-grace. “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” The next word is “but.” Having children is a good thing. Childlessness was regarded as divine displeasure. Just two of them–a quiet household.

But the neighbors weren’t. Liz was assigned the “B” word, “barren”—unfruitful, sterile, as in “barren land.” And what did God do? Zechariah had prayed for years. It’s not what God did—it’s what He didn’t—answer their prayers or tell them what was happening. The silence of heaven can be hard.

Most likely Zechariah regretted his inappropriate question. He asked for a sign—and got it, a nine-month time-out. Liz went on a silent retreat herself: “After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion” (Luke 1:24). She said, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people”(25). Elizabeth was discredited, but that was changing. The hide-away produced evidence that quieted brutal tongues.

Then Gabriel was sent eighty miles north to a young girl instead of an old man. What Elizabeth deduced by virtue of pregnancy, the favor of God, Gabriel spoke to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (28). Gabriel announced what Mary didn’t know: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age…For nothing is impossible with God” (36,37).

God is orchestrating this event. “In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth” (1:26). Right on schedule. Elizabeth is coming out of seclusion. A month earlier Mary would have missed her. Now she travels south.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’” (41-45).

In place of disgrace–incredible revelation; she received God’s plan for her young relative. Rather than concentrating on herself, she now blessed the life in Mary’s womb and the mother of that Child. She counted herself privileged to be in the company of One to whom she would bow, though that Child was only two centimeters. She dares to call Him “my Lord.” God revealed it in a moment—as quick as a kick. This is the most remarkable encounter of two women to ever.

What can Elizabeth teach us?
We trust God’s unwavering character and sovereign plan when we don’t see it. This is not a time for anger.
We look for miracles masquerading behind impossibilities.
The level of our shame is matched by the level of God’s grace—in the very place of our humiliation.
Suffering, stewarded well, produces sterling character, heightened revelation, and growth in gifting. Sounds good to me!

COMEBACK!

The world of sports offers some great finishes. Kentucky, behind by 31 with 15:30 to go, beat LSU (1994). Indianapolis trailed 28-7 going into the fourth quarter some years back. Peyton Manning put on a show and the Colts edged Tampa Bay 38-35.

Zechariah needed a comeback. We hear each year what he did during the Christmas season. He must have rehearsed his less than stellar performance a hundred times over during his silent retreat, his nine-month timeout. One of the worst things about failure is regret, leading to self-condemnation: “How could I be so stupid?”

Zechariah recovered—some never do. Failure gives way to despair. The cross deals with sin, but it doesn’t cover regret, looking in rather than up, viewing our folly rather than the foolishness of the cross.

Zechariah had time to think through his poor response. When the day to name his boy came, he wrote “John” on a tablet. Unbelief had closed his mouth—obedience opened it. And what came out was what was inside—praise and prophecy. What a comeback!

The divine discipline for unbelief turned out in Zechariah’s favor. We are urged by Scripture neither to “make light of the Lord’s discipline” nor to “lose heart when he rebukes” us (Hebrews 12:5,6).

Zechariah’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the temple turned out to be a life-transforming occasion. This news would alter his senior citizen days and bring him into the center of God’s prophetic activity.

Zechariah couldn’t talk during that three-quarters of a year experience, but he could listen. When Mary visited their home in the Judean hills, Elizabeth prophesied “in a loud voice” (Lk.1:42). No doubt Zechariah heard this holy commotion.

The Old Testament ends with a curse. Then follows four centuries of silence. It had been a long wait. Some had given up hope, while holy people like Simeon and Anna, Zechariah and Elizabeth were still waiting, believing.

Zechariah pondered the possibilities of his son’s activity during his disability leave. He marveled that he and Elizabeth had been chosen to raise this key player in God’s plan. He was so filled with thoughts of God’s moving that he literally burst forth into prophecy when his moment came.

The miracle birth turned the tide, which started with an angelic visitation and ended in the priest’s home with the arrival and naming of what would be a camel-smelling, locust-eating prophet. He was destined to be the greatest one, standing at the door and ushering in a new age, pointing people to their salvation, now being carried in the womb of Elizabeth’s teenage relative.

It was time for Zechariah to once again speak after most of a year. What will the neighbors hear first: “Wow! I’m glad that’s over.” Nothing of the kind. “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God” (Lk.1:64).

Gabriel had shared with him the destiny of his son. How thrilling for Zechariah, who thought perhaps he had been overlooked, to now see that they were right on track with the divine plan and that they would raise Messiah’s forerunner.

Each Advent we hear more about Zechariah’s crash than his comeback. Let’s be fair to the old priest. From Gabriel’s announcement to eight days after John’s birth, God dealt with him, and he responded well. Let’s remember him through our setbacks, so they become springboards for God’s fresh movement in our lives.