Luke 1:8-23. 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
Advents are a time for praying.
It’s been over 400 years since God last spoke to a prophet. The priest Zechariah of the Old Testament was shown eight visions. Each pointing to the Messiah in glorious fashion. But then suddenly God went radio silent. No prophecies. No visions. No angelic advents for centuries.
But still they prayed.
When the priest Zechariah of the New Testament entered the temple and was met by Gabriel the angel of God, he was told that his prayer has been heard. But what exactly was Zechariah praying for?
The Annunciation to Zechariah (1416), Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni.
The question may be what was Zechariah waiting for? What was he longing for? Well the text doesn’t say, but we can take a good guess. The advent for Zechariah and Elizabeth most likely came on two levels. Just like it does for each of us.
Level 1 waiting: waiting for a temporal desire to be met. For Zechariah and Elizabeth this was a desire for a son. Is that what Zechariah was praying for in the temple? It is what Gabriel said he would receive – your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
Level 2 waiting: waiting for an eternal desire to be met. For Zechariah and the nation this was a desire for a messiah. The Savior. Is that what Zechariah was praying for in the temple? It’s a bit more cryptic, but this is also what Gabriel said would happen – [John] will go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah. Zechariah’s son would fulfill the prophecies of the forerunner of the Messiah. The advent of “Elijah” preceding the advent of the Savior. That’s John.
Here’s what we need to understand:
Level 1 waiting leads to level 1 praying. Waiting for an earthly blessing = pray for an earthly blessing.
Level 2 waiting becomes level 2 praying. Waiting for a heavenly blessing = pray for a heavenly blessing.
But the truth of the incarnation is that God often uses earthly, temporal desires and realities to bring about spiritual desires and realities. Answers to level 1 prayers are often answers to level 2 prayers. Temporal blessings (like John) point our hearts to eternal blessings (like Jesus). Why? Because our waiting in the earthly is ALWAYS a reflection of a deeper waiting for something heavenly. Always. Every unmet desire on earth, every delayed advent, is a glimpse of our longing for the ultimate advent. Every prayer for something temporal should evolve into a prayer for something eternal.
Faith moves you back and forth constantly between these two levels. Level 1 earthly prayers lead to level 2 heavenly prayers. Level 2 spiritual longing is temporarily satisfied by level 1 natural answers.
Has God answered a prayer of yours lately for an earthly blessing? Maybe healing, or a new job, or good weather for an event, or even a baby? But are these things God’s ultimate answer for you in our advent?
Has God withheld something from you in your prayers? No healing, no job yet, lousy weather, no child? But again, are these things God’s ultimate answer for you in our advent?
Our longings, our desires, our waiting, our prayers are all meant to take our hearts deeper into the realities of the coming of Christ. His advent as a baby, his life, his death, his forgiveness, his imputed righteousness, his indwelling life by the Spirit, these ARE the final answer to all our prayers. These are the level 2 realities that all our level 1 praying points to. And the earthly and temporal truth of Jesus incarnation, as the answer to all of humanity’s longings, is the answer to prayer that points our hearts to Christ’s second advent. The advent we wait for and hopefully pray for in every moment of longing, doubt, and heartache, but also in every moment of joy and triumph.
What are you waiting for this advent season? What are you praying for? How do the earthly longings of this Christmas time point you to your spiritual longings? How can you let Christ satisfy those longings? How can you let the celebration of Christ’s first advent point you to his second advent?
Can you hear the angel Gabriel say to you “your prayers have been heard?”