Do you remember the scene in “Chariots of Fire” where Harold Abrams has trained for the Olympics so very hard and it is before the big race. He confesses to his trainer that actually he is scared to win, to finally reach that goal he has worked so hard to achieve. Old Zechariah has served God faithfully with his old barren wife Elizabeth. He has been chosen by lot to offer the incense, the prayers for his people and their sins. The next paragraph starts, “then.”
Perhaps you are someone who approaches Christmas with that wish that seems so impossible. For years I prayed for a puppy. It was not till I reached Africa, age 30, that I got that dog. I begged for a car in college and got a bicycle! Then there were the proposals that fall through, the job that did not pan out as expected, the drop in the stock market, the kid that turns to drugs and the list goes on of the dreams that seemed so right and yet somehow for all our faith, God does not grant our wish. And yet we try to persevere faithfully. Some of us understand Zechariah and Elizabeth. We know we are not a main character, the hero, of someone’s story but we still try to do our best.
“Then” an angel appears to Zechariah and he is afraid. It is not every day we see an angel! The angel tells Zechariah not to be afraid that he is going to be a father with Elizabeth. Remember Bill Cosby’s impersonating Noah in his famous monologue when God tells Noah to build an ark. Cosby rolls his eyes and his voice drawls, “Riiiggghhhhttt….what’s an ark?” The angel continues to astound Zechariah. The baby will be joy, will be favored by God, will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and will be a blessing to the people of Israel. This child will be greatly used by God! This is so beyond what Zechariah had hoped for and what he had lost hope about that it was hard to take it all in.
Our theme this first week of Advent is hope that comes from fulfilled prophecy. Often we set our hopes on what we would like God to do and when it does not happen as we think, we loose hope. But God fulfills dreams in ways above and beyond what we can imagine. We may not get that puppy or car or husband that we thought we wanted when we thought we wanted it but God is working, even for those of us who are not the leading characters in a drama. May we continue to faithfully serve God even when we are disappointed and may there be an “angel,” alright a friend, who brings you good news this Advent. May you be surprised in worship with a holy moment, an encounter with the living God in a new way! Blessings as we prepare.