Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Tuesday, December 1, Morning

By Dr. Dwight Wade

Dealing with the Unexpected

Read Luke 1:5-35

 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.”

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.

One of Dr. Jim Fleming’s books described Elizabeth and Mary, cousins who faced momentous challenges. In a section called “Turning Points for Mary and Joseph,” he shared many little-known details about Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

The aged Elizabeth was unhappily childless. Her elderly husband, Zacharias, was serving in the Jerusalem temple. While in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred space, the old man received an angelic visit promising the birth of a son, whom we remember was to become John. Upon hearing the news, the priest was flabbergasted!“I don’t see how this could be, since we are so old!” he retorted. For this moment of doubt, we’re told Zacharias was struck dumb until his son was born.

Mary, then in Nazareth, was a thoughtful devout youth, engaged to the older Joseph. Also receiving an unexpected visit from the angel, she learned she would also bear a child in a mysterious manner. The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the baby born to you will be the Son of God. And the obedient Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant … May everything you said come true.”

The birthday of our blessed Savior approaches. Today, we also wait expectantly. We wonder just when the unwelcome pandemic will end and when we might once again worship in our sacred space. It seems to me that Advent is all about waiting with patience and hope. And we take our cue from two great women of faith who lived in a very dangerous era, when death from childbirth was the norm. Still, they endured their trials, believing their strength came from the Lord. God’s gift of the Christ Child is worth the wait.


Loving God, no matter what trials we may yet face in this present age, remind us that you are always with us. Give us that same assurance and courage exhibited by Mary and Elizabeth, that we might remain a blessing to others this season. Amen.

Dr. Dwight Wade is the Church Street historian and author of Unfinished Journey.

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