Welcome to A Scarlet Cord of Hope, the 2021 advent series of University Fellowship Church Women written and read by Jaime Sherman, who penned our Christmastime narratives from biblical, Jewish, and historical sources to tell how God wove hope from creation to the creche and who continues to point us to the final fulfillment of hope in the one-day-soon second coming of Jesus Christ. Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
today’s suggested reading
Luke 1:5-25, 57-80
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
In an honor-shame culture in which children were a sign of blessing, Elizabeth lived barren, wearing a stigma that God was somehow displeased with her. But as God displayed in the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Elkanah and Hannah, God was in the business of surprising His people when the gray hairs came and any hope of fertility had vanished. God was about to move in a mighty way.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, (Zechariah) was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
This was the pinnacle of Zechariah’s career as one of many priests assigned to a rotation in the temple. Most likely Elizabeth waited outside, eager to hear about the experience, eager to know if he had felt God’s presence and blessing.
And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to (Zechariah) an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.“
“And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Zechariah knew these words from the prophet Malachi, and yet he doubted that he and his aged wife were part of God’s plan to bring hope to the nation of Israel.
And (he) said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”
This was Gabriel, the arch-angel who came with messages from God.
“And behold,” he said, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
As He did with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and countless others, God blessed Elizabeth in His perfect timing with a son.
And (Elizabeth’s) neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”
And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
As Zechariah prophesied that his son would one day prepare the people of Israel for the arrival of their Hope, he quoted Malachi 4:5-6, the final verses of our Old Testament: “Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi penned these words from God 400 years before the birth of John, a type of Elijah, who would call for Israel’s repentance and announce the arrival of the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Gabriel’s appearance before Zechariah was especially noteworthy for the people of Israel, who had endured long years of silence from God. They felt forgotten and alone in a world ruled by oppressive men bent on destroying God’s people. Then in God’s perfect timing, with His love set on the people of Israel, God sent His servant John to usher in Israel’s Hope, to pull His people from despair into a new covenant of love and restoration with their Creator God. When your own seasons of loneliness, persecution, and despair come, may you turn to Zechariah’s song — to the words of Luke 1 and Malachi 4 — and remember that you serve the Lord God of Israel, the giver of Hope and Mercy, the One who never forgets His children.
Jaime Sherman is a writer and editor for ufcwomen.blog but most importantly a child of the King of kings, the wife of one amazing man for nearly 20 years, and mama of five girls and one boy. Learn more about her adventure in writing and enjoy some free resources on our main page for this series.