Last night I was reading in Luke chapter 1 and again I was impressed with our need to believe God's Word. I read about an old man, a faithful priest, Zeckariah, who was taking his turn at serving in the temple. Doing what he knew well and was gifted for. Probably not too unlike us as we serve in our churches, he was going through the motions of the duties he was familiar with and he had done for years.
But this time it was different. Zechariah had been chosen to burn incense at the altar. Suddenly he had an encounter with the angel Gabriel. A messenger of God, the very God Zechariah was there to serve. The God whose presence was undoubtedly routinely prayed for. And yet he was terrified when He came. Terrified at the words He spoke.
Gabriel spoke words of peace to try to calm Zechariah. He also gave his message~that his prayers of many years had been heard and his elderly wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son whose name was to be John. This son would bring joy to many and would be greatly used by God. Zechariah stood there is total disbelief. He even asked for some kind of a sign that he would know this message was from God. (An interesting side note is that "Zechariah" in Hebrew means "God has remembered".)
Oh this is painful to think about. Painful because I've done the same thing. I shudder to remember the times I've prayed fervently for something, and when the answer came, I was surprised, I doubted, or I looked for more "evidence" before fully believing.
Zechariah received the consequence of his disbelief right on the spot. Since he was unable to give God immediate praise for an answer to prayer, he was struck silent for the next nine months and unable to speak at all. The angel said to him, in essence, "hell-O Zechariah, I am Gabriel...I stand in the very presence of God and I have been sent to tell you personally that your prayers have been answered! I'm bringing you good news and you do not believe my words. Do you not understand how you have just insulted the Almighty?"
The entire Christmas story is quite preposterous if you really think about it. A virgin has a baby. Angels appear and talk to people. A lone bright star guides to the place of birth. God becomes man. He is a Savior, able to forgive sins and grant eternal life. He was born to die.
All of these things are the Word of the Lord. Do we believe? Do we really believe? Have we accepted the message the story brings, this Good News? As the story of the priest Zechariah reminds us, disbelief has consequences. Lay it down, friend. Lay down your fears, your doubts, your desire to understand and control. Lay down your disappointments, your hurt, the injustices of life. Come to the manger and take a long, hard look. Really listen to the beautiful message of the Christmas carols. And believe.