In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they both were getting on in years.
(Luke 1: 5-7 NRSV)
Zechariah and Elizabeth had done it the right way. They were both “righteous before God” and “living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord” (v. 6). That’s just another way of saying that they had done the right things in the right ways for a long time, and it didn’t pan out for them— at least not in the way or time they had hoped. Their obedience was not an exemption from heartache. Their righteous living was not a guarantee that every longing was met. They lived many long years with their longing for children unfulfilled. That’s hard— really, really hard.
When we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, they are old. We don’t see their conversations over the years about their inability to have children. We don’t see their tears. We don’t know who and what they blamed. We are told only that they are old, they have done the right things, and they have no children. No doubt they thought they had missed their chance on many things they had seen their friends and relatives enjoy.
And yet they held out hope— hope in a God who was bigger than their circumstances; hope for a future that was more than they could see and experience. That in itself can be hard as well.
So often things don’t go the way I want in the time that I want. Sometimes it’s everyday stuff like missing an evening with my family because I can’t get home from work. Other times it’s bigger than that, such as learning again that I have not measured up professionally or personally or continuing in cycles of anxiety that I can’t seem to break. It happens all the time— this life not going as ordered or desired.
When I want to throw in the towel, I am reminded of people like Zechariah and Elizabeth who held out hope. They remind me that I’m not too old for something great to happen. For that matter, I’m not too young, either. Zechariah and Elizabeth don’t give us any reason to take our names off the list of those who can encounter and be used by God. They don’t give us permission to allow decade-long disappointments to become reasons to hide our heads in the sand. Because they held out hope.
If you have reasons for disqualifying yourself from encountering Jesus in a real, life-changing way, it’s time to look at the Christmas story again. If you feel you have missed your chance, remember that God comes in ways we don’t expect. Let go of the idea that God has passed you by.
The Christmas story gives us no precedent for that kind of thinking. Instead, it begs us to hold out hope as disappointment rears its head again. This Christmas, instead of longing for another present, let’s wipe the crust off our aging hearts and continue to long for a God who always holds out hope for us.
Reconciling God, give me strength to face my unmet expectations and disappointments with hope.
Remind me that you know and care for me even when I feel as if I’ve been forgotten.
I am looking and listening for you now. Amen.