WholeLifeWorship in the Christmas Story

Part One: Zechariah

I love the holiday season, especially the weeks leading up to Christmas! While there is so much going on (shopping for gifts, decking the halls and celebrating with friends and family), I find it most important to focus on the “reason for the season” – the Coming of Jesus into our world. What helps me is to read the Christmas story (found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) with fresh eyes. What struck me recently is how WholeLifeWorship principles were practiced in the lives in this story. So, over the next several weeks we (me, as well as some of my friends) are going to look at some of these people, how they practiced WholeLifeWorship and how that influenced the story of our Lord’s coming.

This week I’m going to kick it off looking at a more obscure person in the Christmas story: Zechariah (I’m going to call him “Zeke”, if that’s okay with you).

We read Zeke’s story in Luke 1. He was a Jewish priest, in a line that could be traced all the way back to Abijah (about 500 B.C.). He was married to Elizabeth (I’ll call her “Liz”), whose lineage could be traced back to Aaron, the first High Priest (about 1500 B.C., give or take a few hundred years). Both Zeke and Liz were very old and childless. Also, Liz was a relative of Mary; most likely an aunt or a (much) older cousin.

Zeke was a devoted follower of God. It says in Luke 1:6 it mentions that he and Liz were righteous in God’s eyes and obeyed ALL the Lord’s commands. Clearly, they were devoted to the Lord and it would be safe to call them “WholeLifeWorshipers of God.”

A miracle takes place in Zeke’s life. As he was chosen to serve in the Temple (v. 9), the angel Gabriel appears to him and gives him a message from God: that the Lord would miraculously give them a son (wow!), that this son would be given the name “John” (uh, ok) and that this son would not be a priest (well, umm…) but a prophet that would prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah (what?!)

Zeke’s mind must have been spinning like a top! So many questions, not to mention how freaked out he must have been to have an angel appear to him. The first thing that came out of his mouth is a question of incredulity: How can this happen? Are you sure this is possible? Don’t you know that my wife and I are … OLD? (1:18)

And what happens next is baffling: Gabriel seems to get upset with Zeke and zaps him so he can’t speak any more until after the baby is born. What makes it baffling is that Mary asks the same angel essentially the same question in 1:34, and nothing happens to her. This is a point that theologians and scholars have debated over for centuries! 

 My theory is that, in spite of Zeke’s mature faith and devotion to God, he still needed transformation. No matter where we are in the WholeLifeWorship journey, there is always an area in our lives that need transformation and growth. And the way God does His best transformation in our lives is through a trial or hardship (see James 1:2-4). So, the angel gave Zeke a trial: he would not be able to speak for nine months.

In what ways did Zeke need transformation in his life? One way was in his “expectations.” One of the dangers of being recognized as “being more mature in the faith” is that it often leads them to believe that “I’ve got God and life all figured out.” And Zeke was a classic example: he was a leader, had a reputation as being righteous, and he knew the Law/Word of God and obeyed it impeccably. It would be easy for him to think that he had it all together!

But the angel’s message clearly blew away Zeke’s expectations; not only that God could give him and Liz a son, but that this son was called to a different path (even a different name) than what he might want or expect.

While it would be easy to assume that Zeke was being punished by the angel for disbelief, this trial was actually a gift from God. During the nine months of silence, Zeke could talk to no one but God – who knew his thoughts. In that time, Zeke could be confronted by the limits he placed on God, as well as the self-referenced orientation of his expectations – deep, inner things that he could never see without this trial. This led to a “renewing of the mind” which helped him to see a larger Story at work and enabled him to be transformed in his character. This, then, made him embrace the larger, better will of God over his own limited expectations.

Zeke’s transformation was revealed the moment the baby was born. While the family and friends expected the baby to be named “Zeke, jr.”, Zeke wrote out, “No, his name is John!” (v. 63). While the family and friends expected this boy to continue the centuries long legacy of priesthood in the family, Zeke’s first words were, “No, he will be a prophet!” (v. 76). Not only that, but Zeke’s transformation enabled him to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 67; remember, this was pre-Pentecost, so such a filling was very rare), and to prophesy the larger vision of God that would involve his son and his nephew (Jesus) becoming agents that will change the course of human history for the good!

Whoa!

There are several lessons for us in this:

1. WholeLifeWorship is always a work in progress. No matter how many years we’ve followed Christ, like Zeke, we will constantly need to offer our whole lives to God so that He can renew our minds and transform us; so that we can carry out His will (Rom. 12:1-2).

2. WholeLifeWorshipers see trials and hardships as God’s opportunity to transform us. In our trials we have a choice to either become “bitter” or to allow God to make us “better.” 

3. Our expectations are often our worst enemy and the biggest obstacle to really doing what God wants us to do. Our expectations limit God, close us to other possibilities and keep us myopic and self-referenced. We often settle for the god we can understand and who will do what we expect, as opposed to the God who does “immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine” (Eph. 3:20) 

4. Sometimes we just need to shut up and be silent (ha, ha). No, seriously, it’s so easy to worship our own voice and opinion that we shut our ears to the Voice of God. Being silent (and it’s better when it’s voluntary vs. having an angel drop the hammer on us!) has so many benefits and it is vital in the WholeLifeWorship journey.

So, what are some of your thoughts on this blog? 

What areas of your life require some transformation?

How do you view trials and hardships? As something to avoid or something that God can use to make your life better?

In this Advent/Christmas season, when can you pull away for times of silence and stillness before the Lord?

In the next few weeks, some of my colleagues will be sharing their reflections on other people in the Christmas story as it relates to WholeLifeWorship. Praying that this series will bless you and encourage you in your journey to worship the Lord with your whole lives 24/7/365.

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