I heard on the radio that the first week of Advent is about “Hope.” But Hope deferred makes the heart sick, so maybe Advent is really about Heart Sickness.
Every year we sit around our dinner table and light the candles and sing that perennial Advent song.
O, come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom Captive Israel,
That mourns in lowly exile here, Until the Son of God appears….
Kind of mournful. Makes me quiet.
And we open our Advent book that starts in the Garden. And quickly leaves the Garden in pieces.
That pretty much sums it up. That’s where we live. Outside the Garden. Outside the way things were supposed to be.
This year our Advent began in darkness. As it usually does. Kids bickering. Parents struggling. Stress building. Hopes flagging.
Outside the Garden.
But lucky for me, Christmas came early this year. Back in September God gave me a precious Gift. A Word. Best kind of Gift.
Sitting at the breakfast table so early in the morning, I find our passage on my phone. Can’t find my Bible at the moment. And I read a few verses for us to consider before we all go our separate ways for the day.
And there it is. Wrapped up in familiarity. But sounding almost new.
“Your prayer has been heard.” Luke 1:13
You know the story. Old Zechariah gets his shot at serving the Lord at the altar of incense. Surprisingly, an angel appears and tells him his wife Elizabeth will have a baby.
But Zechariah hesitates. “I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
It has never seemed like a huge fault to me, but the angel tells him he will be Mute because of it.
But today, I get it. I hear it. A twinge of bitterness.
Like, “Thanks, but you’re late. Our friends’ kids are grown up now. We’re past it. We’re over it.”
Zechariah wasn’t struggling with Biology. But Belief. Belief that God is still Good. That God is With him. Zechariah has learned to Do the right things, but he has forgotten how to Hope. To Keep Hoping. To keep Believing.
But on That day, the angel tells him, “The Lord has heard your prayer.” You know, the one you stopped praying ages ago. Oh, He heard it. He keeps hearing it. And when God hears a prayer, it’s lodged forever in his plan.
And in a matter of a couple sentences, I suddenly See a world of Hope.
I see a God who sometimes answers quickly, and sometimes answers slowly. And the slower the answer, the more creative the Answer. The Bigger the Answer. The more Redemptive the Answer.
Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted to have the ordinary joys of parenthood. The ordinary honors. The ordinary Insider life experiences. But the Slow answer of God meant they missed some of that. And that hurt.
But – wow. If they could have only seen. They would have Honor for the rest of history. They were more Inside than they ever knew.
They asked for a child. But God gave them a Chance. A chance to be a part of the biggest story the world has ever known. And their little boy would ring the bell. And pull the curtain back. And baptize the Hero.
All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ Jesus. Slow. Creative. Redemptive. But Yes.
And I’m guessing that Zechariah and Elizabeth never saw how Big God’s Yes was. But maybe our deepest longings, when translated into honest prayers, outlive us.
They asked for a Family. But God gave them a Future. A future stake in all that really matters.
As I read all this, my kids sit quietly finishing their breakfast, searching for an Observation. (They know that is the next question.) Everything is Stillness on the outside. But in My brain and in My heart – there is a Shouting.
The Lord has Heard my prayer!
He is not Late. He has not Forgotten. He is not Indifferent.
He has Heard my prayer. And He will answer in a way that is better than expected.
And I will not be Mute.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel.