waiting and hope
I genuinely love the Christmas season, especially all the classic trimmings and traditions. Lighted manger scenes in the front yard. Opening the mailbox to find beautiful cards from friends far and near. I enjoy the scent of cinnamon pine cedar and the delicious aroma of comfort food baking in the oven. There is so much to love about Christmas, and yet it isn’t always “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Loving something doesn’t mean it always fulfills my expectations. In fact, sometimes it seems that the more invested I am in something, the more capacity it has to break my heart.
Christmas can be beautiful, but it can also hurt.
For years after our son Christopher went to heaven, Christmas was painful. I can understand that for many, the holidays are no reprieve from disappointment. Amid the festive lights and joyous music, loss and heartbreak seem to be magnified.
But Advent—the treasured days leading up to Christmas—are a reminder that this is a season of waiting and hope.
Luke is the only gospel that begins the Christmas story with Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. Zechariah was a man who had lived with disappointment for so long that he stopped imagining God could, or ever would, answer his prayers.
Perhaps some of you are right there. Can I remind you that Christmas might disappoint you, but Christ Himself never will. The gifts He offers may not be on your wish list; they may not seem like the right fit—but pause before you decide to exchange them for something else.
Zechariah and Elizabeth weren’t able to have children. In those days, there was hardly anything worse than barrenness. For so long, they had prayed to have a son. Year after year they cycled through hope and disappointment, waiting and praying for a child. Barrenness was seen as a sign that God was displeased with you. All the whispering assumptions people made about them only magnified their sorrow.
But the Bible is very careful to note their situation was not a curse from the Lord. They were righteous and had walked blamelessly in God’s ways. This doesn’t mean they were sinless, but they were serving God faithfully without blame.
As it happened, Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties and was chosen to go into the very Holy of Holies to offer incense before God. While Zechariah was there at the altar of incense, an angel appeared and told him that his prayers were heard. Elizabeth would bear a son and they were to name him John. What’s more, the angel assured him that, not only would they have joy and gladness, but many would rejoice at his birth because God had great plans for their son!
You would expect Zechariah to be elated, but his first reaction was to question God. “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years” (Luke 1:18). Essentially, he was saying, it’s too late God, there’s no way this can happen.
Now before we write Zechariah off as a stubborn old fool, think about how we relate to him. The angel speaks about hope in an area where Zechariah and his wife have only experienced pain and disappointment. Zechariah wouldn’t believe the good news without more proof—so God gave him a unique way to process it all.
The angel Gabriel said, “I stand in the presence of God. It was He who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—in God’s time” (Luke 1:19-20).
Have you ever had the Lord put you in the corner to learn a lesson? I have. God put Zechariah in timeout so he would learn to trust His love and His character. It was discipline, yes, but it was love.
For nine months, Zechariah listened and watched in silence … all the while, growing more excited and learning to believe God’s promise of good news. When the child was born, Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and all that pent up worship burst forth in a flood of praise!
May I ask, is there an unanswered prayer that you struggle with? Something you can’t understand why God hasn’t given it to you. Perhaps you’ve felt the sting of what others say about your situation.
You may not yet see what God is doing but take heart!
He wants you to learn to love and trust Him. As Greg has often said, God’s delays are not necessarily denials. When it’s most difficult to see through the pain, remember His intentions are loving and His timing will fulfill His plan for your highest good. The older I get, the more I believe this.
I wish for you this Christmas that you will know God’s love and tenderness in all His dealings with you. That even when He allows heartbreak, you will trust He has a greater purpose and desires the very best for you.
There are many ways to be barren.
Our wish list may include things like children, romance, money, health, or success. These are all good gifts, but don’t confuse God’s lesser gifts with His ultimate one. The Messiah’s birth is more than just a religious event in history—it is the answer to your whole life’s struggle.
Jesus was born to take away our sin by dying in our place and removing our separation from God. He is such a treasure that when you have Him, you have everything. The real gift, the ultimate blessing is the gift of Himself, purchased for me by Christ.
Ultimately, Jesus was and is the answer to this world’s brokenness and our soul’s barrenness. Our hearts will never be truly happy without Him.
Through this story, I hope we learn that real faith, weak faith, even doubting faith, requires deep surrender and an open heart. He and He alone, can take away your soul’s barrenness.