Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 5. The Surprise Element
Luke 1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
I said as I opened this series that I wanted to confront the realities behind the Christmas story and one of the things I don’t think I have ever heard anyone mention in preaching is the surprise element of the story. Our verse above indicates this story is grounded in Jewish culture, two thousand years ago – there is king Herod, the mention of Judea, a priest and the priestly establishment, descendants of Aaron. All very Jewish. I expect there are a few other cultures of that period as well documented but this one stands out and it does so in the form of the Old Testament and its dealings with God.
Except here is a problem: those dealings appear to have ceased. Over four hundred years have gone by since the prophetic voice brought the word of God to the nation. There have been a number of political upheavals over that period but nothing from God. Heaven seems silent for nearly half a millennia.
And then a priest in the temple in Jerusalem appears to have had an angelic visitation, the result of which he is now dumb and has had to try to convey what happened by sign language and possibly writing some words. Very strange. And then it all goes quiet and, as far as the world is concerned, nothing more happens.
Now we live in an age of great communication and perhaps because of that everything seems instant. Those who use Facebook or other forms of social media are rarely without their mobile phone (cell phone) and so a day never passes without some notification coming of some friend who has added some photo or piece of news about their life mostly – and forgive the realistic cynicism – of little consequence. But the trouble is we don’t know what is of consequence. I mean what significance is there of this elderly priest indicating he has met an angel? Had he actually fallen asleep in there and had a dream or was it real, and why? What was all that about?
Now in the bigger picture of the ‘after the event’ knowledge, we now know that the angel coming to Zechariah was the first of a series of happenings that would conclude with the presence of God on the earth in a new way, but at the time life carried on as usual, and there was no inkling of some big event about to change history for ever.
The reality was, of course, that the Old Testament record had a number of prophets speaking about a ‘Coming One’, a Messiah, a deliverer of Israel, but when that would happen no one knew, so their lives just carried on unchanged.
And that is how it is today; life just carries on as normal. How many of us woke up this morning and thought straight a way, “Ah, today an angel is going to come and speak to me,” or “Oh great, today God is going to come and do something dramatic in our lives.” God appears to delight in surprises. Moses is one of my favourite Old Testament characters. I like the way that for forty years he looked after sheep on the backside of the desert until one day he saw a burning bush that wasn’t burning. There was no wakeup call that said, “Look for a burning bush today.”
The reality – and Christmas reminds us of this – is that mostly life just carries on, day by day, month by month, but behind the scenes God watches and plans and gets ready. Who knows who we’ll meet today, who knows whether it will be a divine set-up, a divine encounter. Sit quietly before Him at the beginning of this day and submit it to Him and declare your availability, and love, even if nothing spectacular happens. I will be faithful today even if nothing spectacular happens, but if it does…… Lord find me available.