Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Zacharias Factor: A Christmas Tale

Reading through the Christmas story in Luke, I was stunned by the story of the origins of John The Baptist. We sometimes fly over the details when we read and when we do, we miss the true meaning and impact. Zacharias and his wife are now some of the people I will seek out when I get to the other side. I will shake their hand and say thanks to them for being who they were.
So why heroes to me?

If you read the story in the King James, you will see some color not normally considered.  Let’s focus on a few things:

It was a priesthood household. (Lk 1:5)- One of approximately 10000 priests who lived near Jerusalem to serve in the temple. Each priest was a part of 24 divisions each which served in the Temple twice per year for 1 week. He was only one among thousands and yet was declared righteous in the scriptures and blameless before God.  What you may not know is that corruption was rampant and permeated all levels from the top down. Zacharias was in the minority – God saw him as blameless.  A man of integrity. Here is a thought: integrity is not always measured by how far one may ascend to in God’s economy. Zacharias was basically non-descript. I am sure that some considered one who had not even made a ripple others perhaps non-successful. Yet in the eyes of God he was noticed.

They were righteous walked before Him, blameless. (1:6) – consistency in service. I am sure there were some who looked at him and said ‘he doesn’t go along with the rest of us’. Why? He did not profit at the expense of others like perhaps the co-workers. He did not take a bribe, he did not profit from the moneychangers, he did not take from the altar what was not his to rightful portion. He played straight up.

And they had no child ( Lk 1:7) – This labeled him beyond measure. He was in the eyes of all he knew a man who walked out-of-sorts with God. God did not bless him with children. As his life progressed, the prayers Elisabeth and him prayed grew less frequent and fervent. Expectation of a new arrival, grew into hope and then regressed into reverie and finally to resignation. Was this over just a few years? No, it was a lifetime of waiting. The same verse chronicles that the two were  ‘well stricken in years’ what does that mean, they were elderly. Back then, you weren’t considered aged until about the 70th year. There was no hope and yet they remained ‘blameless’. How can one be blameless in the eyes of God? You live before Him not blaming Him for your lot. I know this all too well myself. I do not consider myself blameless but full of blame – maybe the scripture  ‘if we judge ourselves we will not be judged’, is relevant here. I do not blame God for my lot and I do not blame others anymore – especially my children. No there is too much to place on myself for that. I am a product of my own choices—but one redeeming thing is I have is I have not permitted my circumstances to impact my love for God. It has not wavered and will not. I aspire to be one like Zacharias.

By lot (Lk 1:7-8), it fell to him to go within the veil and perform priestly duties to clean the altar of incense and re-fresh all the incense that was to burn continually before the presence of God. This was not a regular thing. Think of it: only two times a year could one have a chance to be called upon and there was a 50:1 chance of getting the drawn lot. For Zacharias, it may have been a once in a lifetime privilege. What really intrigues me is the timing of the lot falling to Him. What we see sometimes as a random event is not that at all. It is a sovereign event. If you look at the things you consider unfair or that God did not care, then It is my conviction you need to adjust your thinking. The fact is God allowed it to happen and even ordained it. Please note though: this is never to justify your part in that course and flow of life. It does not justify your place or any decision you had a part of making. It is mostly because God wanted it that way. This reality is sometimes hard to swallow but if the scriptures can be counted on, and they can be, whatever injustice you may be suffering now is not the end of the game. This is where our faith comes in and where we prove ourselves His children. We live like Zachariah and Elisabeth did. Empty but not without faith, our integrity intact and our not blaming God for how it all turned out. We may even reach a point of resignation about the change we hope for. The important thing is we do not let someone or circumstance make us view God unfavorably.

He applied the incense (11-12) – when the smoke cleared, he realized he was not alone. An angel of God was there to bring him a message: “Thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord…” God is always right on time. I am firmly convinced it is not in the hands of our detractors nor in the hands of fate. The incense symbolizes praise and the prayers of the Saints (see revelation). If anything all the years of prayer and beseeching God and holding no malice against God in the struggle culminated in that one physical act. Zacharias poured out all his life on those coals that day. My question to you is when it comes your time to pour out your life what will it smell like…savor or stench?

He was vindicated – God shown on His face His favor (Lk 1:25) – It was a miracle. Hoping beyond hope as His ancestor Abraham – God gave him favor.


So how is this a Christmas story? It is perhaps about the greatest gift a man can receive. The gift of a son or a daughter. All my children know that gift now. For that I am thankful. They know the love now I still feel for them. It is the God-kind. Why do I aspire to be like Zacharias? I do so in the hope of a voice I once heard so frequently before my choices I might hear echoed in the small voice of their children. I will stand in the integrity I have –what there is of it. I will endeavor to walk the rest of the way blameless before the God I serve. I will live in resignation and raise my hands and worship the God who has always looked out for me. Should I see an angel which I do not expect but hope for bringing good news I will indeed rejoice. But should He not come, my God is enough for me and if it be told, He has always been enough.  I am standing near the coals and pouring my life out upon them praying what will be forthcoming is a savor. I have kept the faith and run the course set by God as painful and hard as it has been I still am able to look at the heavens at night walking my little Pomeranian and my mouth still whispers praise.

Merry Christmas to you who read this. May the coming year have the lot fall in your favor.

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