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Thursday, February 11, 2016
Today’s Reading | Luke 1:1–38
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Prayer is one of the great mysteries of faith. When we think about God answering prayers, we tend to equate answered with yes. Similarly, we equate unanswered with no. But no is, in fact, an answer, even if it’s not the answer we’re hoping for.
For many years, God’s answer to Elizabeth’s prayer for a child was “not right now.” The world wasn’t ready for John the Baptist, and even though she may not have known it at the time, God was asking Elizabeth to be patient and wait for the right timing.
Luke’s clear explanation of Elizabeth’s prayers for a child leaves me wondering what Mary prayed for before the incarnation. I wonder what hopes and dreams of hers God said “no” to so that she would be prepared to be Jesus’ mother. I wonder if at some point she looked back and saw those answers less as “no” and more as “I have something better planned”?
It won’t always be that God’s answer of “no” has another meaning. It won’t always be that “no” really means “not right now” or “I have something better planned.” Sometimes the answer is “no” simply because what we’re asking for isn’t what’s best for us. Are there times in your life when you’ve asked God for something and in retrospect have been really glad the answer was “no”?
Omniscient God, help me to know that you always hear me when I pray. Remind me that you always answer, even if it’s not the answer I want in the moment. Help me remember that sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes the answer is “no,” sometimes the answer is “not right now,” and sometimes the answer is “I have something better planned.” Give me patience like Elizabeth and trust like Mary as I listen for your answers to my prayers. Amen.
Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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