“And they (Elizabeth and Zechariah) were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord. But they had no child …” (Luke 1:6)
Suffering is something universal for us. It doesn’t matter who you are … rich or poor … famous or obscure … if you are a follower of Jesus or if you do not follow Jesus … we’re all going to experience pain or suffering at some point. If you haven’t, you will. If you’re not, chances are you know someone who is.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous before God.” According to Scripture they were “walking blamelessly.” They were good, Godly people … and yet they still experienced pain their entire married life … specifically the pain of infertility. Since they were both “advanced in years,” the implication is that they had been experiencing this pain for a very, very long time.
Regardless of the type of pain or suffering, there are no easy answers for it, ever. The truth is that Christianity can’t always be reduced to a “tweet” or a bumper sticker. Horrible things happen. We suffer. We know people who suffer. And, the longer a situation goes on, the more difficult it is to find hope … especially when we’re right in the middle of it.
Could this be why it was so difficult for Zechariah to believe the words of the angel Gabriel? An angel from God miraculously appears to him and tells him that, even though he and his wife may be members of the AARP, they are about to have a son … the very thing they had been hoping for all these years. The answer to prayer that he and Elizabeth had been longing for finally arrived, and yet Zechariah responds with “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Can we blame him for his doubt? I mean, who among us has never doubted God? Who among us has ever seen or experienced a tragic loss and wondered if God is really good? Who among us has ever stopped praying for something or someone … not because we got a clear “no” from God but simply because we didn’t see anything happening, so we just gave up. I mean, I can look at my life and see situations I stopped praying about because I didn’t see anything happening or people I stopped praying for because I didn’t see happening what I thought should be happening.
We all live our lives between our human circumstances and the promises of God. And, what we decide to focus on will make all the difference. Christmas reminds us, as Tim Keller has said, that we “cannot judge God by our calendar. God may appear to be slow, but He never forgets His promises. He may seem to be working very slowly or even to be forgetting His promises, but when His promises come true (and they will come true), they always burst the banks of what you imagined.”
May you find hope in the promises of God this Christmas and may you be able to say something similar to Zechariah after the birth of his long-awaited son, John: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78 – 79)