My son will be better than me – because he already is.
Luke 1: 13-17:
“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.”
So often when we think of John the Baptist, we reference his weird wilderness clothing and lifestyle. Or we focus upon his calling to prepare the way for Christ. This is all pretty standard stuff, but did you notice verse 16? “He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.” I’m not sure if I ever really looked at this in the context of where this message was given and to whom.
Picture the scene: Zechariah is burning incense at the altar of the temple of God. He is doing his priestly duty. The role of a priest is to speak to God on behalf of the people, while the role of the prophet is to speak to people on behalf of God. Quick question: What was Zechariah supposed to be doing while doing at the altar? Isn’t his priestly duty to help bring people to God in the first place? It is as if the angel Gabriel gives the message to Zechariah that his son is going to do the very thing that he (and his generation) were not doing. I wonder how that might have felt.
Obviously there are more important issues at hand, including the miracle of Elizabeth’s conception, and the setting apart and special naming of the prophet to lead the way for the Savior. We focus so much on the reality that he was going to have a son in the first place that we miss what this son is going to do. Your son will do what you are not doing now. When Zechariah questions the angel it is more about having a son than about what this son will do. That is just too much to take in and process at that time. This basic questioning of the angel ultimately leads to him being silenced for the duration of the pregnancy.
But let’s not miss this subtle point. There are things our children are going to do that we are not able to do.
Particularly for those who are serving in ministry, it is a humbling reality to understand that one day our children will reach those we couldn’t. Why is this the case? Craig Groeschel tells us that, “in order to reach someone who has never been reached, you must do what no one else has done.”
Sometimes our fear stops us from doing what really needs to be done. It requires those coming behind us to learn from our victories and defeats but still move forward. My son is willing to live with abandon; I am older and more cautious now. We have normalized our pattern of ministry, and it requires something large (like an angel interrupting our ministerial work one day) to convince us to change our model. If only Gabriel could coach me once a week, then I might be able to figure this stuff out!
Try something new this Christmas. View it as a gift to yourself, but even more, a gift to the world. Be outlandish, without fear, put on strange clothes if you have to, and eat weird stuff if it helps you be who you need to be for those who are far from God.
Though I think it might come across as a bit rude (sorry, Gabriel), the message to Zechariah is actually still a message of hope. Your son is going to do great things for God, even though we all know it will cost him his life. The gifting of prophecy is never an easy undertaking. Delivering a word (especially to those with authority or power) typically isn’t about sunshine and rainbows. Zechariah’s prayer in Luke 1: 76 says, “and you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him…”
This is my hope for my son — that he will do even greater things than me, and be able to accomplish things that in my weakness and lacking I was not able to.
There is always hope.