The God who keeps His Promises
Imagine being in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation:
Luke begins his account with a priest named Zechariah. His wife, Elizabeth, is a descendant of the priestly lineage of Aaron (Luke 1:5). Together, Luke describes them as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). In other words, they are model Israelites – the kind of people you would want your children to be influenced by and eventually grow up to imitate. However, in the following verse Luke adds a significant caveat to his otherwise glowing description of this couple: “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” (Luke 1:7).
Luke’s statement here is significant. First, the birthing of children was considered a sign of God’s blessing and favor (Ps. 128:3), and therefore for a Jewish woman of Elizabeth’s stature, being unable to conceive would have been a great source of both shame and grief. Second, Elizabeth’s barren womb raises questions about God’s goodness and faithfulness. Imagine the questions that might have been swirling around in Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s minds: Have we not followed His Torah dutifully? Do we not serve Him in the work of the Temple? Are we not descendants of Aaron?
Have you ever felt this way? That despite your honest attempts in service and faithfulness to God, He seems to continually withhold blessing from your life? Or is unable (or, worse, unwilling) to grant you your heart’s desire? (See Ps. 37:4 on this.)
However, while serving in the Temple, Zechariah has an encounter with the angel Gabriel. The angel tells Zechariah not only that his barren (and elderly!) wife will have a child but that this child will be the forerunner of the Lord’s promised return (Isa. 40:3-5; see also Luke 3:1-5). Amazed and perplexed, Zechariah asks how this could possibly be given their ages. Gabriel responds by telling him that he will be mute until the birth of the promised child occurs (Luke 1:16-3).
By opening the Christmas story in this way, Luke prepares his readers to meet a God who keeps His promises. When John is born, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s friends celebrate with them and marvel at God’s mercy (Luke 1:57). When the time comes for them to name their miracle child, Elizabeth says that they will call his name “John.” Their friends are puzzled over this since there is no one in the family lineage by this name (it was Jewish custom to name children after close relatives). However, when they asked Zechariah about this, he wrote on a tablet that the child’s name would indeed by John.
Immediately after, Zechariah regains his ability to speak and prophecies over his new son, highlighting the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His covenant promises (Luke 1:67- 79; see especially 1:70; 72-73; 78-79). For Zechariah, the birth of John not only signified God’s faithfulness to him and Elizabeth but to the nation of Israel as a whole. For this child would be the one who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah, who would bring God’s light to the world (Luke 1:78-79; see also Num. 24:17; Isa. 60:2-3; Mal. 4:2).
The birth of Jesus evokes a similar response from Mary concerning how God keeps His promises (Luke 1:32-33; 54-55; 2:26; 38; 51). The rest of Luke’s narrative is an unfolding of how God fulfills His promises through the life and ministry of Jesus, His Son, albeit in very surprising and shocking ways. The bottom line for Luke as an author of inspired scripture is that God is one who is faithful to His word and makes good on all of His promises.
The world is full of chaos and disappointment – true enough. But as Luke has shown, this world is still God’s world, and He intends to fulfill His promises. As Zechariah and Elizabeth show us, God still shows up in our lives in surprising and merciful ways.
Christmas reminds us that these things are true. God is faithful; He can be trusted; He will accomplish His purposed redemption of His people.
What are you trusting God for right now? Do not be discouraged or weary in your waiting. Remember the words of Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Those arms are upholding you now through Jesus Christ even in the midst of whatever trials and tribulations you may be facing. This is the promise of Christmas!