This third week of Advent is the week of Joy!
In the days of Herod, King of Y’hudah, there was a cohen named Z’kharyah who belonged to the Aviyah division. His wife was a descendant of Aharon, and her name was Elisheva. Both of them were righteous before God, observing all the mitzvot and ordinances of Adonai blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elisheva was barren; and they were both well along in years.
One time, when Z’kharyah was fulfilling his duties as cohen during his division’s period of service before God, he was chosen by lot (according to the custom among the cohanim) to enter the Temple and burn incense. All the people were outside, praying, at the time of the incense burning, when there appeared to him an angel of Adonai standing to the right of the incense altar. Z’kharyah was startled and terrified at the sight. But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Z’kharyah; because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elisheva will bear you a son, and you are to name him Yochanan. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many people will rejoice when he is born, for he will be great in the sight of Adonai. He is never to drink wine or other liquor, and he will be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the people of Isra’el to Adonai their God. He will go out ahead of Adonai in the spirit and power of Eliyahu to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for Adonai a people prepared.”
Z’kharyah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man; my wife too is well on in years.” “I am Gavri’el,” the angel answered him, “and I stand in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, to give you this good news. Now, because you didn’t believe what I said, which will be fulfilled when the time comes, you will be silent, unable to speak until the day these things take place.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Z’kharyah; they were surprised at his taking so long in the Temple. But when he came out unable to talk to them, they realized that he had seen a vision in the Temple; speechless, he communicated to them with signs.
When his period of his Temple service was over, he returned home. Following this, Elisheva his wife conceived, and she remained five months in seclusion, saying, “Adonai has done this for me; he has shown me favor at this time, so as to remove my public disgrace.”Luke 1:5-25 (CJB)
I imagine that reading was a little tougher for you. I love the Complete Jewish Bible translation for it’s ability to shake me out of my know-it-all-Sunday-School-complacent self. So, I’ll give a tiny guide—though maybe in trying to read through that particular story, you opted to grab your own Bible and read it in a more familiar way, which is fine. The characters in this story are Z’kharyah (Zechariah), Gavri’el (Gabriel), and Elisheva (Elizabeth). You also have mention of the name the child will have, Yochanan (John). I suspect you wondered what a cohen and mitzvot are. (The answer would be a priest and a commandment, respectively.)
Now that we have that out of the way, we can dig into the story a bit more. Zechariah (Z’kharyah) is doing his job as a priest. He’s in the Temple burning incense like he did regularly. This is an ordinary day on the job. Then, God disrupts Zechariah’s ordinary. An angel steps into the scene. Angels always seem to start by saying, “Do not be afraid”, which makes me think the natural reaction to seeing an angel is fear. But here is Zechariah, interrupted and awed by what God is going to do. And as God is known to do, He interrupts the ordinary for something even more ordinary—a baby. Zechariah and Elizabeth are old and barren. They have no heir. It seems that common dream is one Zechariah gave up long ago because he questions the angel’s message. But there is no mistake. There will be a miracle-baby named John who is coming to prepare the people for the coming Messiah.
Babies are born every minute. In fact, as mentioned before, about 250 babies are born every minute. That is an extremely ordinary and normal occurrence. But ask any parent, and they’ll tell you, whether it is their first baby or their eighth—every baby is a blessing and a miracle. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, this baby is even more of a miracle. (Infertility will make you appreciate the simple act of a baby being born a little more.)
There is so much joy in this rather ordinary story. I’m going to admit, an angel visitation is not ordinary. I’m not denying how miraculous this story is. But heaven is peeking through the ordinariness and making it holy. The light of the coming Messiah is peeking through the curtain.
Have you stopped to examine your ordinary to see heaven peeking through? This time of year, I feel like you can see those little pinpricks of joy more easily. Look around you. What do you have to be joyful about? I’m listening to the Dora theme song for about the thousandth time, but hearing the giggles of a very content three-year-old sprinkled in. What joy! I’ve got a fat little baby napping and dreaming of more milk, an eighth baby after being diagnosed with infertility. What joy! I’ve got fuzzy slippers on my feet that are completely not stylish but are oh so cozy and warm. What joy! Joy comes from the simplest things. This Advent, this week, let’s take the time to notice and take note. If we’re still and look hard, we’ll see a little heaven peeking through.
Today’s song: Today Is the Savior’s Day by Rend Collective