Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 9. All of a oneness
Lk 1:63,64,67 he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God…. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
Remember we are trying to touch and regain the reality of Christmas. In the previous meditation we contemplated a sequence of actions. In this one I want to cement together the stories of Mary and Joseph (that we usually focus on at Christmas) with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth (who often get left out) and suggest we need to consider the reality of the whole package, if I may out it like that.
We saw Mary go to be with Elizabeth, when Elizabeth was in her sixth month, and Elizabeth was filled with the spirit and prophesied (1:41-45). Note the sense of proclamation about what she said: “In a loud voice she exclaimed….” (v.42) Then Mary had prayed a prayer that was more prophetic than prayer, again declaring the truths of God. After over four hundred years of silence from heaven, there are two angelic sightings and now two prophetic declarations – from women!
We are then told that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for another three months which leads one to suggest that Mary stayed there until the birth of John and maybe witnessed all that happened. Our verses above indicate the crucial things that happened after the birth. At his circumcision on the eighth day after his birth, a question was raised as to what his name should be. First Elizabeth out loud, and then Zechariah in writing, confirmed that it was to be John. As soon as Zechariah confirms the Lord’s will as spoken through the angel nine months earlier, his tongue is released, he starts praising God and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies.
The similarities between what happened to the two couples knits them together. Admittedly Joseph does not appear to have been filled with the Spirit, but the other three clearly were. Moreover, the effect of their being filled meant they all prophesied. And all this after angelic communication. For Zechariah and Mary, it had been direct encounters, with Joseph it was in a dream and with Elizabeth it was via the signing and writing of her husband. Remember, this is all before the Day of Pentecost, still some thirty-three years off, when the Spirit would be poured out on all the believers, and so it is as if three of these four act as forerunners of what will eventually happen.
For those who struggle with the idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit, please see it as just one of the ingredients that go to make up this amazing story of the coming of the Son of God. It is not the ‘be all and end all’ as we might say, but it is a natural part of the whole package, just another supernatural element of this package, which contains from the outset God’s supernatural intervention to enable Elizabeth to conceive naturally in old age, and Mary to conceive supernaturally without the aid of a man.
Angelic appearances, divine conceptions, outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and prophecy. For those who are locked into a materialistic mentality, these accounts are challenging. But then as the Gospels proceed, if you take out all the divinely supernatural elements, you will be left with virtually nothing. A little over a century ago there came a rise of criticism from so-called scholars, who undermined a generation or more of believers. The only thing is that these men started from the standpoint that the miraculous, or what I have called the divinely supernatural, cannot happen and all their scepticism flowed from that. They had no reason to do that than their sinful unbelief, i.e. they were unbelievers. It took a number of generations of Christians to pass before some began challenging their original starting points and point out the folly of listening to the opinions of unbelievers over the word of God.
Why not instead start from the view that just maybe all these things written here DID happen exactly as the text says, and see where that leads you? If your life and the life of your church fails to exhibit the divinely supernatural and the clear moving of the Holy Spirit, perhaps it is time to think again as you read these accounts this Christmas and then pray, “Lord, please take away the unbelief that hinders my life,” for even as in these accounts, the Lord is waiting to do great things.