Echo of Hope -- Part 1

Echo of Hope (Acrylic on Canvas) - Version 3

Echo of Hope (Acrylic on Canvas)

We find ourselves in a season of hope.  Hope, sometimes beyond logic and comprehension, wells up, even when we wonder if there is anything left to hope in or hope for.  Even in the face of hard life circumstances, hope is that inkling that what we see around us, that what we currently are experiencing is not the whole story.  Hope is the trust.  Hope is the faith that the best is yet to come.

Hope came to Zechariah and Elizabeth:

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home.  After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Luke 1:5-25 (NIV)

Picture it.  You have Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are both getting on in age, entering their golden years.  One of their deepest life-long desires has been to have a child, yet it has not yet happened.  This desire is probably a hope they have nearly given up on, on some level.  During that time and in the culture of the people of Israel, having children was considered an immense blessing.  Conversely, infertility was seen as tragic.  Some even viewed it as some sort of punishment from God.  The barren life was quite difficult.  Elizabeth had probably longed and prayed to be a mother.  They are both described as righteous and blameless.  They are both from a priestly line and have lived devout lives.  And yet, their prayers have yet to be answered.  Because of their age, they have probably accepted the fact that they will not get to have children.  Or perhaps they are hoping for a Sarah and Abraham type miracle. 

Zechariah, as a priest of the Abijah line, has had the privilege and rare occurrence of being chosen to offer the sacrifice in the temple.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  So, while Zechariah is praying on the inside, a multitude are praying outside, awaiting him to come out and offer a blessing.  While he is inside, an angel of the Lord, a messenger of God appears to him.  He is ready to jump out of his skin in terror.  The angel offers words of, "Do not be afraid . . . ."   The angel proceeds to say that the long awaited prayers and hopes of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have been answered.  They are to have a son and call him John.  The angel describes who their son is to be and provides a glimpse into his life.  Zechariah is still probably reeling from the pronouncement that he and his wife, at their age, are now going to have a child.  He even questions the angel on how he can trust what has been said as true.  The consequences for Zechariah's doubt is months of muteness.  

As he exits the temple, because of his inability to speak, Zechariah is unable to give the blessing.  Probably, he has been thinking about the blessing he would give on this such occasion for most of his priestly life.  All he can do is gesture wildly trying to explain what has occurred.  Talk about a difficult game of charades.

Eventually Zechariah heads home to try and convey to his wife what has happened and what is going to happen.  Elizabeth is overjoyed.  Her prayer has finally been answered!  The hope that she had buried has now taken root and a seedling has sprouted.  In the midst of the darkness of their lives, a spark of light shines bright.

As a woman, who spent a decade longing to be a mother, I can relate to Elizabeth.  I can feel the heartache.  I have lived in that cycle of hope that comes on a monthly basis when one is trying to conceive.  I have laid on the bathroom floor in tears, when, once again, it was revealed that I was not pregnant.  I have journeyed through the experience of a failed placement of adoption.  The grief of it all threatened to submerge me.  Yet, as I accepted the darkness, entered into and walked through the grief, I was able to come to peace.*  For the first time in my life I am at peace with not being a mom and, at peace if God decides to bless us with a child(ren).  Is there still hope to be a mom?  Perhaps the inkling is still there.  Yet it is freeing to let that hope be an echo.  It is freeing to surrender to God, letting what will be, be.  My hope has evolved to be rooted in wanting what is best for me, and knowing that God only knows what that is, so I will trust in God.  

Hope is a strange experience.  Hope is not something linear or predictable.  It comes more in waves and cycles.  Some times we barely have hope to muster at all.  Where in your own life have you seen long awaited prayers answered?  On what prayers are you still awaiting an answer?  On what hopes have you nearly given up?  How have you seen God at work in your life?  Where have you seen glimmers of hope?  How has God called you to bear hope in the world.  

In this season of Advent, may we be mindful of hope.  Let us start with hope on a personal level and interpersonally.  In whom/what do you place your hope?  May the Christ child, may Immanuel, may God among us, be our source of hope.  And may we share this hope in the way that we love God, self, and one another.

Let us pray:  Gracious and loving God, You are the source of all true hope.  May our lives be anchored in You.  Help us to deepen our way of prayer.  May we be willing to come to You raw and real throwing at You wherever we are, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  May we also be willing to surrender to You, trusting and recognizing that You truly do know and want what is best for us.  May we continue to be people of hope.  In the name of the One who is hope fulfilled we pray.  Amen.

*For more on this journey you can visit my previous devotional series:  

Journeying Through the Dark Night of The Soul

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