By Sarah Langness
Come, Thou long expected Jesus; Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.
My favorite part of the Christmas story isn’t found in what we typically think of as “the Christmas story”. My favorite part doesn’t involve mangers, magi or Mary. It doesn’t involve shepherds, angels, or inns.
My favorite part of the Christmas story involves a priest, a prayer, and a promise:
“In the days of Herod . . . there was a priest named Zacharias . . . and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.
Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias,for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. For you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord . . . it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.‘” – Luke 1:5-17, NASB (emphasis mine)
Zacharias’ prayer in the temple was not, as we may believe based on how the text reads, a prayer for a son. He was not standing before the Lord on behalf of himself and Elizabeth, begging God to open her womb. Zacharias was standing before the Lord on behalf of the nation of Israel, begging God to send the Redeemer. His prayer was the priestly prayer for the redemption of Israel.
So when Gabriel comes to him and says “Your prayer has been answered”, Gabriel is saying, “The Lord God has heard your prayers and the prayers of others before you. He will send the Redeemer. The time has come. And you are going to play a part.”
Next to being Mary herself, I cannot think of anything more humbling, more awe-striking, more fear-inducing.
From the beginning, from the fall of man, God has promised a Savior. A Redeemer. A Messiah. The prayers of the nation of Israel was, “Come!” The Lord heard those prayers. And He answered them. In His timing.
As we celebrate His coming, His humble birth and wondrous love, may we anxiously await His return. May the prayer of every believer’s heart echo that of the Israelites, “Come!”. The Lord will hear those prayers. And in His time, He will answer them.