It was a day like any other day in the life-long ministry of Zacharias the priest. With Elisabeth’s goodbye kiss still warm on his cheek, he went about his business, reporting for duty in his scheduled commitment to serve in the Temple.
It was a day like no other day when the honor of entering the most holy place fell to Zacharias, and his aging eyes found the burning incense eclipsed by angel light. Startling and strange, the heavenly messenger’s words hooked unbelief, earning Zacharias a nine-month sentence of mute pondering. God’s four-hundred year silence was broken, leaving an elderly couple blinking and gasping at this new way of understanding the word impossible.
“Well stricken in years” is the delicate, traditional rendering, a state that would have made for a challenging pregnancy in any era — even if you are carrying the forerunner of the Messiah. Like a spavined barn with tar paper siding, Elisabeth’s olden frame would have been covered with skin already stretched and sagging, but with joy she bore the bone-on-bone pain of an aging back and a heavy load.
Did she understand that her glorious passage from barren to fruitful was more a rending of history than a miracle of gynecology?
It was a December day like any other. There was dog hair that needed to be vacuumed. There were lessons that needed to be prepared. There were emails unanswered and dishes unwashed. By my calculation, Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least seventy-five meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating.
It was a December day like none before. Sitting at the dining room table with my Bible open to the pages between the Testaments– the ones that follow the scalding prophetic words and precede the red letters of grace–I imagined myself into the sandals of the faithful. Pausing in this liminal space, I wondered about waiting and the nature of a sinewy watchfulness that keeps on trusting in the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
From the outside, I think it must look like everyday life:
–Elisabeth, hands resting upon implausible roundness as she tries to decipher Zechariah’s chalkboard scribbles;
–Mary, silently pondering a secret that would rock her teenage world and send the tongues of Nazareth wagging;
–Anna, keeping her open-ended vigil, not knowing that the waiting would soon be over and her eyes would see salvation in an infant’s small appearance.
Attending to the faithfulness of these women of Christmas puts parentheses around a moment, as I try to identify with the generations who lived their days in the in-between. Sure, God had promised that a Messiah would come, and those who knew the Scriptures seemed to have a lot of details about it. Even so, for those who held the promise close to their hearts, it must have seemed as if God had pressed history’s pause button, and they had been left standing in a freeze frame, waiting for deliverance.
Fast forward over two thousand years from the dawn of Anno Domini, and we’ve lost that connection between expectation and faith. High-speed internet and Amazon one-day shipping are relics of my forward-leaning Religion of Next. I wear my hurry like an ill-fitting cassock, proclaiming by my words and deeds the counterfeit gospel that God is in the slowest hurry I’ve ever seen. In a fast-forward life, anticipation fades like childhood memory and the long-forgotten sound of Christmas bells.
When Christmas becomes separated from Truth, it lands in my December like a burden–just one more thing in the multitude of things that need to be checked off my list. But, if I stay present to the wonder of Word made flesh, my blunted perception is sharpened just enough to hear God’s present-day proclamation in words that bypass angel lips and star song, but land in power on the believing heart:
“Nothing shall be impossible.”
“God is with us.”
Words spoken into that long ago in-between resonate for today’s waiting.
Simple Truth schools me in the authentic gospel of expectation in which the power and the presence of God bursts through all the shallow frippery and hoopla of a holiday run amuck.
Entering the holy place of the in-between, Truth feeds an advent of belief. For, like Elisabeth, I, too, live in hope for that which is yet unseen, my heart pregnant with anticipation of the Coming that is yet to come.
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This post appeared first at SheLoves Magazine.