"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." (Luke 1)
The first event in the New Testament is a very human thing -- a man in Israel, a priest, is chosen to do his service in his church. He's chosen randomly to light the incense in the golden altar, a high privilege. But his selection wasn't random; it was God's choice. God wanted Zacharias in the temple that day because He wanted to speak to him. After 430 years of total silence on God's part, He at last decides to speak to an Israelite.
The Israelites had been talking to God, however. Zacharias had been praying, pleading for a son, a child for the childless. The people were praying; they were murmuring prayers outside as Zacharias burned the incense, and the incense itself, burned daily, represented the people's prayers: constant, rising to heaven, offered by the priests. Did God hear?
God's last words to His people before this lengthy silence -- 430 years earlier -- are recorded in Malachi. "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. (Mal. 3) And this: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Mal. 4)
When God's angel speaks to Zacharias, he uses these same words. He tells this lowly, childless priest that his own son will be the messenger, the herald of the Messiah. Zacharias was rightly astounded, disbelieving, awe-struck. After hundreds of years of silence, was God speaking to him? Answering his little prayer with huge promises that terrified him?
This is the first step leading to Jesus's birth. This is the beginning of Advent -- God speaking from the deafening silence, giving promises that are too huge to handle. Have you ever prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and then ... God answered in overwhelming ways? Our understanding of Jesus's coming should fall into this category. We, like Peter in the sea, cry out, "Help!" to God. And He answers shockingly by taking on a paltry human body, prone to bruises and colds and headaches and pain, and comes down to our decaying planet, and lashes Himself onto us in our destruction, and says, "I'm not leaving you. I'm staying until I save you." What a mystery! What humiliation for Him! What salvation for us!
(I'm participating in Floss's "A Pause in Advent" in December. Please click over to her blog to read other bloggers' thoughts on Advent.)