There are questions that lurk below the surface of our longings. These are the things we wonder in the quiet and dread in the dark but don’t speak into the open light of day. Questions we are too nervous to ask because we fear the answers even more than the questions.
What if I am forgotten? What if I am abandoned?
What if I pray out these deep longings of my soul and hear the crippling sound of silence in return?
We pray for healing for a loved one, and the healing doesn’t come. We plead for release from a struggle that holds us under its thumb, and we continue to feel crushed. We beg for peace to come to a relationship, and the conflict remains.
Sometimes it feels easier to not pray about these things at all. For if we don’t pray, we don’t have to wait for God to answer. We don’t have to wonder why God seems to be silent when the world is pressing in on us from all sides.
There is a truth about the way God works that is difficult to swallow: God is not in a hurry.
In Luke 1, the Christmas story does not begin with Jesus. Or even Jesus’ parents. It begins with a priest who has been treading water in the waiting place for many years.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were righteous. They followed God’s commands blamelessly. And yet, they were childless. The words of blessing spoken in the Old Testament, the promises that those who followed the Lord faithfully would be blessed with children, somehow didn’t seem to apply to them.
He and his wife are now old, and presumably, have given up hope. The silence of waiting went on too long.
But then, when Zechariah is serving in the temple, an angel appears. He breaks the silence with words of remarkable hope.
Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.- Luke 1:13
Your prayer has been heard. You are not abandoned. You have not spoken your needs into thin air. You have expressed your desires to a God who listens and cares.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:13-15, 17
Zechariah finds out his lifetime of silence has had a purpose: it was not yet the right time. He was to have a son. But that son’s birth was tied to the Messiah’s birth. Zechariah’s prayer could not be answered until it was time for the prayers of the world to be answered.
God’s response to Zechariah’s prayer was greater than Zechariah ever could have imagined. But that answer came with a price: the pain of waiting for God’s timing to be right.
Waiting for answers to our prayers may cause us to tread in the deep dark waters of struggle and doubt for longer than we thought possible. But as we work to keep our heads above the water, we can hold onto the hope that God has listened.
Our prayers have been heard. We can wait with expectant hope.
Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.