A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

In The Shadows Of Christmas

December 16th, 2006

Take an evening stroll around the neighborhood this month and you’ll see a variety of nativity sets. Some are wood. Some are cardboard cut outs. Some are hollow painted plastic with light bulbs inside. Wherever you live, nativity sets all have the same figures. Mary and Joseph. Shepherds and wise men. Some animals. And of course the baby Jesus. The only difference is here in Arizona baby Jesus’ manger is often right next to a saguaro cactus wrapped in white lights.

There are other players in the Christmas drama that you don’t find in the nativity scene. These are significant, yet lesser known characters. People standing in the shadows of Christmas. The Bible talks about two of them. An elderly man named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.

Zechariah was a priest. Elizabeth was a godly woman. Though they were both faithful servants of the Lord, they were advanced in years and unable to have children. To be childless in the Jewish faith was a disgrace. It meant no chance for you to be parents of the promised Messiah.

Imagine what that must have been like for Zechariah and Elizabeth. In our modern technology we know all kinds of reasons for infertility. Back then they didn’t have a clue about blocked Fallopian tubes or endometriosis or low sperm counts. We know from the text that it was Elizabeth that couldn’t have children. But all Zechariah and Elizabeth knew, and all that their neighbors knew, was that they were a couple who had asked God for children for a very long time and didn’t have any.

They lived in the hill country of Judea. A small town. Small towns are a blessing because everyone knows you. Small towns are a curse because everyone knows you. You can bet this couple was a the topic of more than a few dinner table discussions over the decades. “Zach is such a good guy. And a priest, too. I wonder why he and Liz don’t have kids?” It was a burden Zechariah and Elizabeth felt everyday.

As it happened, on the biggest day of Zechariah’s professional life, an angel of the Lord appears with a news bulletin. Elizabeth is going to have a baby. A son named John. He will be great in the eyes of God, one filled by the Holy Spirit. One who will “prepare the way of the Lord.”

To Zechariah, this is too good to be true. Oh, he wants to believe it. But he reminds the angel Gabriel of the obvious. He’s an old man. Elizabeth is an old woman. Gabriel in turn reminds Zechariah of the obvious; this message comes on orders from God Himself. And Gabriel should know because he was standing right there when God said it.

In a round about way, old Zach was asking for a sign. And he got one. A loving rebuke. He would be unable to speak until the baby was born.

Just as the angel had said, Elizabeth became pregnant.

Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for years to have children. God answered them at a most unexpected time. His answer was more than an answer. It was an invitation to participate in God’s drama.

In your prayers, are you asking God for the desires of your heart? Are you prepared that His answer will be more than an answer? That His answer will include your playing a role in His plan for the world? God loves you more than you can imagine. Whether you realize it or not, God has an appointed role for you in His divine drama.

In spite of the fact that Zechariah doubted the angel’s message, God went ahead with His plan to bless. God is not discouraged by our doubts. He sticks with us and lovingly convinces us that we are of infinite value and significance.

Standing in the shadows of Christmas are ordinary people. People like Zechariah and Elizabeth. And Mary, God’s chosen to be the mother of Jesus. We know by reading Luke 1 that Mary spent three months living with Elizabeth and Zechariah. It takes us but a moment to read the passage. Yet what were those three months like for them?

For three months, one particular house in the hill country of Judea was home to three of the most incredulous people in the history of the world. Zechariah…an elderly priest whose once in a lifetime career moment was one-upped by an angel delivering a sneak preview of a birth announcement that left the holy man literally speechless. Elizabeth…an old woman who has rocked in her chair and read her Bible everyday for decades while gazing down the hall at the nursery she never got to use, but is now placing orders with Babies-R-Us.  Mary…a poor teenage peasant girl but by the favor of God Himself, richer than any palace queen.

How many discussions did they have about angelic visitations? About the miracle of becoming pregnant by a husband on Medicare? Or becoming pregnant completely apart from being intimate with a man? What was it like to try and interpret Zechariah’s sign language?

Three surprised people in the same house for three months. Absorbed in their personal wonder yet unable to escape the Divine momentum pulling them beyond themselves into world changing history. An old woman and a teenage girl sympathizing in one another’s morning sickness. A dumbstruck old man writing furiously on a piece of paper trying desperately to keep up his end of a conversation about the reality of angels.

And at the end of the day, two expectant mothers lying down to sleep, running one hand in a slow circle over their womb, filling the darkness with their silent prayers and questions.

Three of God’s chosen together for three months in a simple Judean home. Thankful they are not alone in their miracles and their visions. Scared about the timing and thrilled about the nearness of their God. Three very humble, unknown, and incredibly significant people.

If those walls could speak, what a story they would tell.
What is your story this Christmas? Are you asking God to break through your doubts with His blessings? Are you still waiting for an answer to prayers you’ve prayed for years? Are you prepared for an answer that is more than an answer? Are you prepared for God to use you to accomplish His plan?

God cares. Human obstacles of age and time and circumstance make no difference to Him. Or, in the words of the angel Gabriel, “nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

If you feel this season that you are standing in the shadows of Christmas, remember this…

God has not forgotten you. Joy and gladness await you in His perfect time.

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” – Isaiah 12:2