It is the second week of Advent. It’s time to explore the courage of two more characters involved in the birth of Jesus. This week, through the LeaderCast, we will look at the Courage of Elizabeth. Today through this blog, we will look at the courage of Zechariah.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are married and have been for years. They are an older couple who approach each day with the same activities, the same people, and the same thoughts as every other day. They have no children and because they are older, they are past their childbearing years. In the culture in which they are living, being childless is a disgrace. Yet, it is with this older couple, that the story of the birth of Jesus begins.
Zechariah has been chosen to be the priest to burn incense before God. It is not only a special opportunity to perform such a high priestly function, but it is a privilege to enter the Holy of Holies where the tradition of experiencing God is too real to be true. Because of his position among the priests, he takes advantage of the opportunity and privilege.
It is there, in the Holy of Holies while burning incense to kill the smell of sin, Zechariah sneaks in a personal prayer along with the traditional prayers for the day. It is the prayer of his heart and the hunger of his soul. Because he has prayed it a thousand times, he does not expect much to happen. It is his way of dealing with his disappointment of being childless. So, in the presence of God, he prays once again, “Why, O God, have Elizabeth and I remained childless?”
At that moment an angel appears and says, “Your prayer is heard.” Zechariah doesn’t believe it. He has been praying without conviction, not really believing that God would answer his prayers. Even as deeply committed and righteous as he is, he prays without a sense of expectation. So, when God intervenes in his life, he reacts in fear and disbelief.
The angel, the messenger from God, says, “Do not be afraid. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes…”
Zechariah is still unsure. So, he questions the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replies, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God.” In other words, “God sent me. How dare you argue with me?” For Zechariah, it is too good to be true. He cannot believe such news. How can it be true? He is too old for such nonsense.
Was Zechariah Courageous or Lacking Courage?
Up to this point in the story, I confess that I don’t find much courage on the part of Zechariah. He is not looking for God in his everyday, ordinary life. Even when he has the opportunity to participate in one of the highest privileges of his life, he has lost sight of his purpose.
But, if courage is “speaking one’s mind by telling one’s heart,” Zechariah made himself vulnerable as he burned incense in the Temple. He had the courage to whisper the prayer of his heart one more time. By his willingness, even if by a routine, to become vulnerable, life changed for Zechariah.
Yet, he has difficulty accepting the change. After all these years, when his prayer is heard, Zechariah has trouble trusting. He finds a reason to dismiss the new possibility God is providing. Because he does not trust God’s action in his life, he has nothing to say, he is speechless until Elizabeth gives birth and names the baby John.
Skills of Courage
Now, that is some story. Before we look at the courage of Zechariah, let me remind you that the four skills of courageous leaders that can be learned, measured, and observed include: 1) Rumbling with Vulnerability 2) Living our Values 3) BRAVING Trust, and 4) Learning to Rise.¹
When Zechariah does not take God’s message seriously, he is given time to rumble with his vulnerability. He is a priest. He has the privilege of entering the presence of God in the Holy and Holies. The people are expecting Zechariah to pronounce God’s blessing upon them.
But a priest who cannot believe the word of God, because he cannot accept the possibility of divine intervention, has lost faith in God’s redemption. So, any blessing he pronounces upon the people will be an empty professional formality.
If Zechariah could not be vulnerable in believing the good news given to him, it is better that he does not pretend to bless the people. So, when he comes out of the Temple to speak on behalf of God, he is speechless. What an example of vulnerability. A priest who has nothing to say.
The Courage to Witness to God’s Grace
It is almost like God has put Zechariah in “time out,” so he could rumble with his vulnerability. It is only after he names the baby, John, does he again have something to say.
As a Jesus follower, when you learn how to rumble with vulnerability, you will have the courage to give witness to God’s blessing of grace.
When Zechariah prays, he is living in his values. He is a holy and righteous leader, yet he did not believe God would answer his prayers. In fact, he goes against his values when he argues with the insights he was given through answered prayer. He has allowed his values to be clouded by his personal disappointment. He has become so familiar with holy things, that he has become numb to the intrusion of the holy into his life.
How often do you pray expecting God to answer? How often do you feel so familiar with the prayer or scripture that you don’t think to take it seriously? If God said to you, “Your prayer has been heard,” what would that mean for you? What is the “too good to be true” news in your life?
As a Jesus follower, when you live your values, you have the courage to receive the truth in the midst of your disappointments as well as your heart’s desires.
The Courage to Trust
When Zechariah’s prayers are answered, he could trust God’s action in his life. But he does not trust. He dismisses the news by questioning the messenger, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”
When you have the opportunity of BRAVING trust, do you move forward in courage to live into what God is doing? When God calls, God provides. The scarcity of resources is not an issue. Age is not an issue. Gender is not an issue. What would God do through you if you did not dismiss God’s good news for you?
As a Jesus follower, BRAVING trust will give you the courage to lead the people around you when fear and anxiety rule the day.
When Elizabeth and Zechariah bring the baby to the temple for circumcision and naming, the people think that the boy will be named Zechariah after his father. But Elizabeth tells them that his name is to be John. The people do not believe it, so they come to Zechariah. Because he cannot speak, Zechariah takes a tablet and writes, “His name is John.” The people marvel at what they have witnessed. This is breaking with Jewish family tradition. But it is in his obedience to God that Zechariah is able to speak and to bless God with his voice.
God Honors Your Obedience
Here is the greatest example of the courage of Zechariah. He learns to rise. Over his period of silence, he had to rumble with his vulnerability, he rediscovered his values, and he is BRAVING trust by breaking with tradition and naming the child, John. In being faithful, the sign of his disbelief is taken away. The people are amazed and listen to what Zechariah has to say. In learning to rise, he gives witness to God’s blessing of grace.
As a Jesus follower, learning to rise will give you the courage to speak boldly even after falling face-first in unbelief. God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon your faithfulness, but God does honor your obedience. As you learn to rise, you will have something to say about the God you know in and through Jesus.
So, here is what I want you to do this week:
- Read the Advent scriptures.
- Download the Advent Bible Reading Guide.
- Become familiar with Elizabeth and Zechariah.
- Ask God to help you identify Elizabeth and Zechariah in the people throughout the day.
- Look for God in the routines of your daily living. Ask yourself throughout the day:
- Where am I seeing God today?
- What good news is God giving to me in and through the people around me? Through my family? Through my colleagues? Through my friends? Through strangers? Through my work? In my community?
- Make a note to share your reflection with someone you trust, then share it with them.
- Respond in the following ways:
- Become vulnerable. Whisper the prayer of your heart one more time. Where and/or with whom will you be looking for God to answer your prayer? How will you reflect the nature of God’s grace, goodness, and love as you wait?
- Be courageous. You have good news to share. Give voice to your courage by reaching out in some form of kindness, care, or compassion. How will you speak God’s grace this week?
- Learn to rise. In the midst of disappointment, discouragement, or disgrace, accept God’s blessing of grace in Jesus. When you are released from your unbelief, give witness to your experience of God’s blessing.
Because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are no longer paralyzed by disappointment or disgrace. Like Zechariah, rumble with vulnerability, rediscover the value of faith, trust God’s action on your behalf, and rise to new life.
It is the second week of Advent. Do you have the heart to step into the new life God is offering you?
- Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 10-12.