Thursday, December 24, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-24 [Luke's Advent] Transformed


Transformed

I'm going to finish this series on Luke's Advent with the account of the shepherds and three thoughts:

1. Shepherds were the "ragamuffins" (In South Africa we'd call them "skollies"). They were rough diamonds, reputed to have dishonest tongues, long fingers and coarse hearts.

And yet it is to these rough shepherds that the angels bring the announcement of Jesus birth! From the very outset it is clear that Jesus came for everyone. They say that Santa only comes to the kids that have been "nice" and not to those who have been "naughty". Jesus makes no such distinction: He comes to all:
- To barren Zechariah and Elizabeth via John
- To young working class couples like Joseph and Mary
- To shepherds in spite of their dodgy reputation
- And to sages from pagan countries and distant lands.
- To old Simeon and Anna in the temple forgotten by society.

As a fellow "naughty" and "ragamuffin", I am so grateful that I don't believe in Santa, but Jesus.

2. Look at the message of the Angel:

  • "Don't be afraid" (not in those tough times and not now in these Corona Virus Times)
  • "I bring Good News of Great Joy" (And even some 2020 years later it remains Good News that God stepped into our broken world so that we are not alone.)
  • "In the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord" (He may be in our world - but He's God-with-us and able to save us.)
  • The sign of a "baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger". (He's already experiencing the brokenness of the world and He can make it holy.)
  • "Glory to God and Peace on Earth" (The only fitting response is worship and the outcome will be peace - because God has shown us His favour.)

3. The shepherds were transformed by their encounter. I can just imagine the emotion in the face of a burly shepherd cradling Jesus and touching a soft cheek with a calloused finger. They rush around the town waking everyone up, and the people aren't irritated or mistrustful - they are amazed at what has happened to the shepherds.

May we also be transformed as we reconsider Jesus' coming into our world!

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.      (Luke2:8-18)


This brings our Advent Series to an end... I hope it has been a blessing to you.

I want to wish you a blessed Christmas and New Year. We celebrate in tough circumstances, but we have an opportunity to dig deeper and celebrate on principle instead of just because it is a holiday. I pray that you'll have the faith, hope and love to make the best of the circumstances and let your light shine!

With much love,
GodBless,
Theo

(EmmDevs will re-start in the middle of January...)



Wednesday, December 23, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-23 [Luke's Advent] Under the Circumstances


Under the Circumstances

This year many people will celebrate Christmas under tough circumstances. People have lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost income, endured loneliness in lockdown, experienced massive stress and felt the ongoing uncertainty of a changed world - especially with the arrival of a second wave of infections. This is real for our family too as my dad has been in hospital for 4 weeks with an aggressive form of leukaemia and we are now not allowed to visit him in hospital.

It seems hard to think about "peace on earth and mercy mild..."

But the truth is that Jesus was born in the midst of very very difficult times and circumstances:

  • He was born under the oppressive Roman regime that ruthlessly taxed, ruled and punished its subjects. Life was cheap and tensions ran high.
  • His parents were forced to travel to a distant down to register for a Census - and, in spite of Mary's pregnant state, they were forced to go. They were bullied by bureaucracy and powerless to withstand it.
  • According to scholars, Bethlehem was a "little town" and was overrun by census-visitors. Mary and Joseph could find no accommodation and even her impending labour could not get them any preferential treatment except a shelter for cattle. And so Jesus was born into the kind of poverty where one has to depend on the kindness of strangers who will have to come up with a makeshift plan with the little they have...
  • Even the gifts he received (myrrh) spoke of His destiny - that he was born to die. Shortly after His birth, an assassination attempt was made on His life and He had to become a refugee as they fled to Egypt.

So Jesus comes into a painful, hurting and broken world and even before He was born, He was bullied by bureaucracy and then He was the target of violence and experienced the reality of fear and flight.

We've had a year where we've felt oppressed by lockdown and bullied by rules (some of which were wise and necessary and others which were senseless and maybe even underhanded). We've lost loved ones and experienced financial, emotional and societal strain as never before.

But... Maybe this year, more than ever, we should recognise that His coming is not ivory tower stuff, but the relentless determination of a God who comes to find us where we are - in the midst of our gritty and grimy circumstances to offer us:
- understanding (I know where you are)
- guidance (I've walked this road too)
- peace (I will be with you)

May this be a Christmas in which you experience God's closeness more than ever...

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.      (Luke2:1-7)



Tuesday, December 22, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-22 [Luke's Advent] And you my child...


And you my child...

After 400 Silent Years (it had been that long since the Israelites had someone come and say "thus says the Lord") an angel appeared to Zechariah to tell him that he and his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

The angel also told him to call their son "John" which means "The LORD is gracious" but Zechariah was skeptical and so he was deprived of the ability to speak until their son was born.

When their son was born, the family wanted to name him Zechariah after his dad but Elizabeth was insistent that he should be called John and so they asked Zechariah... When Zechariah indicated that it would be "John" his tongue was loosened and he burst forth in praise and prophecy.

In his praise Zechariah recognises God as a God of strength and rescue who delivers His people - a God who keeps His promises and allows us to serve Him without fear. It is beautiful praise.

He also recognises a significant destiny for his son, John who would be the prophet of the most High.

What is significant is how Zechariah saw the work of the Messiah...

There's a line from "Hark the Herald Angels" that I really like. It reads: "Peace on Earth and Mercy mild - God and sinners reconciled." But there are three lines from Zechariah's song that capture a similar sentiment: "to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God."

Doesn't that so aptly describe Jesus' Mission and the purpose of Christmas?

And then one more thought: The birth of Jesus into our world makes the birth of every child even more special, because God chose to share in our birth. We see this preemptively in John's birth as his father lovingly prays over him "And you my child..." Just as John's birth became special because of the coming of the Messiah, so our birth and the birth of our children is made special by Jesus' coming.

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."
They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us--
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.      (Luke1:57-80)



Friday, December 18, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-18 [Luke's Advent] Magnificat


Magnificat

After the angel visited, Luke records her simple commitment: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said..." But then Mary is quiet... She heads to her relative Elizabeth where she stays for three months and, as I suggested in previous devotion, I am sure she had her tank filled by Elizabeth and Zechariah's godly presence.

But when she arrived and unborn John danced, a similar explosion of joy happened in Mary and she burst forth in song!!!

General Comments about the song:

  • The song is very Hebrew in its thinking and structure
  • A large number of the phrases in it are taken from the Old Testament
  • There is a big similarity to Hannah's song - with more personal introduction and application.

There are three strophes:

  • Personal Experience:
    Mary's joy is complete - it includes her soul and spirit: (Greek: Psyche and Pneuma) and this points to the totality of her being. She is also amazed and deeply appreciative of the undeserved grace and privilege of being used by God.
  • Victory in Reversal
    Mary celebrates God's mighty deeds, but especially emphasises the idea of reversal: That the proud and powerful are brought down and the humble are lifted up. She rejoices that the hungry are filled and the rich leave empty.
  • Conclusion
    Mary concludes with thought that God is a faithful, merciful and promise keeping God.

We find ourselves in tough circumstances where corruption has been rife and we see powerful people abusing their privileges. In these frustrating and demotivating times is good to remember and celebrate that God came into the world in all humility and simplicity. He mysteriously and wonderfully uses weakness to defeat strength, humility to dethrone arrogance and faithfulness to rescue his people.

So let's throw our heads back and sing songs of praise!

And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."      (Luke1:46-55)



Thursday, December 17, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-17 [Luke's Advent] Dancing


Dancing

John the Baptist (JohnB) had the task of preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Mary, was related to JohnB's mother, Elizabeth. We're not told precisely how they were related, but when the angel tells Mary that she is going to bear the Messiah, he also tells her that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and so Mary travels to see her.

Elizabeth was six months pregnant and when Mary arrived, and the unborn JohnB leaps within her. This is a supernatural event - the unborn JohnB recognises that his Creator, Lord and Saviour (although hidden from sight in Mary's womb) is near. He responds with great joy.

We can wonder how that happened... How is it that an unborn could perceive, understand and respond? It is an interesting discussion, but I'm quite content to leave the mechanics to God. What grips and grabs me is that we have an insight into the core of John's nature and character: the coming of the Messiah brings him incredible joy.

At some level this unborn child recognises the wonder of the Word made flesh. At some level he senses that the Son of God has become the Son of Man ---> and he DANCES!!

How do we think about the wonder of the Word made flesh?
What would JohnB have done if he'd been alive to see Jesus set His face like flint toward Jerusalem?
What if he'd seen Jesus in Gethsemane?
Or being flogged?
Or crucified?
Or risen?

Even before he was born JohnB started to teach us that Jesus' coming unto our world is a wondrous and incredible thing.
We should learn from him and dance!

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.      (Luke1:39-44)


Friday, December 11, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-11 [Luke's Advent] Elizabeth: Attentive Delight


Elizabeth: Attentive Delight

Elizabeth was the barren and aged wife of the priest Zechariah. She was six months pregnant with the future John the Baptist as the result of a promise given to her husband by an angel. Mary was a young peasant girl engaged to Joseph the carpenter. She was a relative of Elizabeth and an angel had told her that she was supernaturally pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah.

Mary is famous for her faithful response which is especially illustrated by her song of praise which we call the "Magnificat". Most of the time we assume that Mary's response: "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said" was immediately followed by the Magnificat. But it isn't.

Something else happens first...

Put yourself in Mary's shoes: She's pregnant, the only explanation she has is a vision of an angel. Joseph, her fiance, will probably reject her - he could even have her stoned. Society will ostracise her. She must have been pretty terrified and she must have felt quite alone. Her parents don't seem to be in the picture and so she heads off to see her relative, Elizabeth...

There were good reasons NOT to go to Elizabeth:

  • She was a much older woman and her husband had an honourable job
  • She was legitimately pregnant whereas, by human terms, Mary wasn't
  • She was the wife of a priest and should disapprove of Mary's state

But Elizabeth must have been a special person because Mary goes to her and stays for three months. I can only imagine that the Godliness of Zechariah and Elizabeth infused their home with a sense of warmth, safety and the presence of the Lord. This was a safe space for Mary...

When Mary arrives, just the sound of her voice causes baby-John-inside-Elizabeth to dance and this causes Elizabeth to recognise what God is doing in Mary.

It is this affirmation and this delight that causes Mary to magnificate!

What can we learn from Elizabeth?

  1. Are we "safe spaces" for others? Do they feel that they can come to us when they're in trouble?
  2. Are we hospitable people, ready to open our lives to others?
  3. When we see God at work are we ready to exclaim and affirm?

Elizabeth's "empathetic enthusiasm" moved Mary from fear, uncertainty and doubt to Magnificat.

May we do the same.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour..."      (Luke1:39-46)


Thursday, December 10, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-10 [Luke's Advent] Parallel


Parallel

The account of the birth of Jesus has a beautiful parallel and foreshadowing in birth of Samuel to Hannah and her husband Elkanah.

Just as Hannah was faithful and responsive to God, so Mary is faithful and dedicated to God - trusting God through a pregnancy she could not explain and praising the God who works mysteriously and miraculously in our lives. Both Hannah and Mary burst into spontaneous songs of praise and Mary's song has many similarities to Hannah's. They are women of great faith, courage and devotion.

Joseph, like Elkanah, is loving and attentive. He loves Mary and when she falls pregnant he aims to divorce her quietly - not wishing her any harm - indicating his deep love for her. His attentiveness is shown when God speaks to him numerous times in dreams: confirming Mary's miraculous pregnancy, urging him to flee to Egypt, prompting him to return to Israel and warning him to go to Nazareth and not Judea.

Samuel is the child who brings God's word to the people after there had been a long period in which words from the Lord had been "very rare" (See ch.3) The announcement of the coming of John the Baptist and the imminent Messiah came to Zechariah after "400 silent years." In another sense, Jesus Himself is the Incarnate Word of God. He is God's "final word" (Heb.1).

When one sees parallels like this: the main event (Jesus' birth) being foreshadowed more than 1000 years before it happens by Samuel's birth, one can only conclude that this is not just a story, but History.

Another thought that this parallel brings to me is that when God calls people to accomplish His purposes in the world, He seems to find ordinary people who then do extra-ordinary things with His help. Hannah and Elkanah along with Mary and Joseph are ordinary people who step up to be remarkable parents to God's prophet and God's Son. They display remarkable devotion and attentiveness to God and He helps them do these great things.

May it be that we also will be available to God like they were!

4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb.
11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." (1Samuel1:4-11)
----------------------------
Luk1:38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her
----------------
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.    


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-09 [Luke's Advent] Virgin Birth

(Apologies for the missed eDev yesterday...)

Virgin Birth

The Creed tells us that Jesus "was born of the Virgin Mary."

Strangely enough there are many people who have trouble with this.
"Mary a virgin? Sure! Pull the other leg!"
Some have even tried to turn their rejection of the virgin birth into a positive thing, by saying that the merciful Messiah came into the context poverty and brokenness of a young girl who'd landed up with a "bun in the oven."

But Mary was a virgin - The Bible says it - I believe it - and it is important. Not because it makes Mary special, but because it makes the conception and birth special.

If Mary hadn't been a virgin and the child was actually Joseph's then we lose a critical concept that Paul was at pains to make in Romans 5 where he talks about Jesus as the "second Adam." Paul points out that all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are prone to the same failures and sinful desires. (Irenaeus called this "original sin")

We needed a new start. Jesus, though born of Mary, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not through human intercourse. He is not part of the chain of human brokenness.

The other important facet of the Virgin Birth is that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. He's born of a very human Mary (who wasn't special or sinless) but He's conceived by God. He's fully human so that He understands our situation and is able to die in our place and He is fully God so that He can be without sin (unlike the first Adam) and that He can bear the weight and sin and death on the cross.

The Virgin Birth isn't about Mary - It's about Jesus and we should recognise how important this is: It means He is eligible and able to take our place and die for our sins. HALLELUJAH!

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God."      (Luke1:34-37)


Friday, December 4, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-04 [Luke's Advent] A puzzled Mom and a Baby's Mission.


A puzzled Mom and a Baby's Mission.

Luke's next exciting installment is what we now call "The Annunciation." And there is so much we can say about it!

For today I want to introduce Mary briefly and then zoom in on Jesus' mission. We'll come back to Mary when she visits Elizabeth.

Mary lived in Nazareth - a back-water in Galilee... She was probably young (16 or 17) and was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Engagement usually lasted a year and was regarded as binding. Ending it required divorce and if Joseph died during the engagement, Mary would have been called a widow. Being pregnant and not from your future husband would be considered adultery...

Mary's emotions are a lovely picture of her and our humanity. She's afraid (the Greek implies a very primal fear) but also puzzled. Our assumption is that when God sends messengers, it's because we're in trouble. We're very aware of our broken sinfulness. Mary did not expect to be considered "favoured". Then she is curious: "How can this be?" And then she is quietly acquiescent. "I'm the Lord's Servant." But she has some processing to do. We'll see the outcome of that later...

Now let's consider Jesus' mission:
Gabriel described the Work and Mission of Jesus in three main thrusts:

1. He was to be named Jesus. This is a variant of "Joshua" and means "the Lord Saves" or "the Lord Delivers." It was a name commonly given to Jewish boys because the Jews desperately hoped for a Political Messiah who would save and deliver them from the yoke of Rome. They wanted a Gideon or a Jephthah to chase their enemies into the sea and give them peace.

Jesus had three greater enemies then Rome in His sights: He came to rescue us from sin, death and Satan. Both His incarnational-ministry and His death-resurrection-ascension accomplished that.

2. Great and Son of the Most High God. Jesus never achieved greatness by earthly standards: He did not amass wealth or status, He didn't hobnob with the powerful and famous. He demonstrated another greatness - He revealed God to us. In His teaching and in His actions, in His identification with us and in His tears for us, He, as the Son of the Most High, showed us what God is like.

3. He was given the Throne of David - He is the King and head of the church. The church has survived persecution, the dark ages, the crusades, the "enlightenment", communism and secularism and will continue to thrive.

This is why He was born and this is why His life led inexorably to the cross.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God."
38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.      (Luke1:26-38)


Thursday, December 3, 2020

EmmDev 2020-12-03 [Luke's Advent] Zechariah, Waiting, Doubt and God's


Zechariah, Waiting, Doubt and God

Today's reading is the story of the announcement of conception and birth of John the Baptist. I'm going to make a few comments to "prime" us and then invite you to read the passage and let it speak to you...
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth were good people and yet they also experienced the heartache of a broken world. They were barren and yet, in spite of not being able to have children, they were faithful and prayerful
  • Israel had been through what scholars call "400 silent years" where there had not really been a clear "word" from the Lord. The prophets had been silent, Israel was under the dictatorship of the Romans and the priests went through the rituals, but God had not spoken to His people directly. Unlike Samuel, Zechariah doesn't have an Eli to coach him through a heavenly visitation.
  • God is at work in the details, in something as simple, for example, as the casting of lots to decide who the priest on duty would be. Bear in mind that the casting of lots meant that some priests might never serve at the altar of incense.
  • In Revelation the bowls of incense are seen as symbolic of the prayers of God's people.
  • The name John means "God is Gracious" and his role was to bring joy. (Bear in mind that even while John was in his mother's womb, he danced when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, entered.)
  • Even priests doubt, and though it may seem that the angel was punishing Zechariah, his muting became the proof that something had really happened.

As we enter Advent, I think there are many of us who have struggled for long, and prayed many prayers. God comes to us in the midst of pain and we can be agents of joy. He works in ordinary people and even in "coincidences". Doubt is an enemy to be battled and I think being quiet can be a powerful doubt-dispeller.

Throughout his novel "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", CS Lewis' characters describe their longing and expectation for God's deliverance after an unnaturally long and harsh winter. They encourage each other with the words: "Aslan* is on the move..."

Read today's passage with the same anticipation.

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. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 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 give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 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 from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
18 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
19 The angel answered, "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. 20 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 proper time."
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 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.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people."      (Luke1:5-25)

* In CS Lewis' novel the Christ-figure is portrayed by a lion named Aslan.