So many of the liturgical gospel passages are epic stories that we know well, like today’s account of the angel’s appearance to Zechariah to tell him that he and Elizabeth, both well past child-bearing years, would have a son to be named John (the Baptist).
We know a bit about Zechariah.
“In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah…and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name… Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are off to a good start with their deep fidelity to God. In fact I feel a bit intimidated by them since I had a rough week last week losing perspective (yesterday’s post was written from my own recent experience😬). Sin seemed to take me over even more than usually – but you don’t need the details to get the point I will make!
But then I realised that the heart of my problem and the reason for my loss of perspective is that I have the same doubt that Zechariah had when the angel told him that he and his very elderly wife would have a son.
“Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this?”
That’s often my problem.
How can I be sure that living in relationship with Jesus Christ will enable me to live the life that I seek?
All the reports from history and the evidence in my own experience says YES. Life in relationship with Jesus Christ gives the most guaranteed certaintiy of a happy and fulfilling life. While we look for certainty in books and methods and programmes our only certainty is in relationship, first with God and then with those God gives us as companions on this journey.
When Zechariah and Elizabeth met and married they like any newly married couple would have prayed to be parents. By the time of their golden wedding party their prayer would have changed and they would no longer imagine that children were possible for them.
Zechariah’s prayer had matured from the youthful ‘God give me what I want’ to ‘God, you know my deepest desires, Your will be done.’
The mature person of prayer knows that the deepest human desire is not to have our little prayers magically answered, but to know that God is with us in our joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties.
Our problem in prayer is that we ask far too little of the God who desires to give us everything. That reminds me of my favourite C.S. Lewis quote already mentioned this Advent:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The Weight of Glory
And I’m not sure that Zechariah was struck dumb as a punishment:
“when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.”
The one who is seeking to live with Jesus will often struggle with idle chatter and superficiality. In the presence of the divine what can one say since human language struggles to effectively convey divine life? Most people don’t understand anyway. Perhaps this is why Mary “silently pondered these things in her heart” since silence is the most appropriate response to awareness of God with us.
- Can you remember the things you used to pray for as a child? Perhaps you recall praying to receive a particular Christmas present. How has your prayer changed? What do you consider to be the signs of this maturity in your prayer today?
- What are you praying for today? Now allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge your prayer and deepen your desire for God: “O God, You know my deepest desires. Your will be done”.
O Antiphon: 19 December
O Root of Jesse,
standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us,
and delay no longer.