57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Advent as a season so ripe with anticipation always moves me with such hope. I remember as a kid, anxiously waiting for Christmas Day and quietly wondering if the myth of a man dressed in red velvet really did shimmy into my living room delivering gifts. One year, I joined the band of curious children and stayed awake late into Christmas Eve ready for the moment to sneak out of bed and catch sight of this mysterious figure. You can imagine my disappointment when I saw my sweet mother (spoiler kids) unpacking and placing gifts for my brother, sister, and me on various couches. Suddenly, what I had hoped for and expected proved to be vastly different in reality.
The Gospel of Luke begins with such a story – full of expectation, telling the naming of Jesus’ forerunner, and alive with hope. Elizabeth, expecting her first child – a promised son after years of bareness– shatters familial and social expectations concerning his name. “No, he is to be called John,” she firmly explains (1:60). Dissatisfied with her answer, they turn to Zechariah, the child’s father who surely will confirm their expectation that the boy’s name will come from the family line. Yet he too responds with the unexpected, “His name is John,” the priest writes; and they marveled (1:63). If you’re like me, you don’t often marvel at the unexpected, rather you push against, throw a pity party, or tirelessly keep trying to manipulate situations and people to match your vision of how things should be. Seasons of expectation often lead us to the most unexpected and sometimes exhausting realities.
The given passage follows just after Mary’s and Zechariah’s parallel encounters with the angel, Gabriel. Both receive a message of a child to come, and both ask very similar questions. Yet where Zechariah receives rebuke and punishment, Mary is given explanation and blessing. It is no small thing that the birth of the Savior is introduced by a male religious leader losing his voice and a young, pregnant female teenager expressing hers (1:22, 46). Advent has a way of reversing orders and reminding us of God who moves in the unexpected.
Advent as a season of waiting and anticipating is characterized by surprise, confusion, and perhaps even disappointment. In his book, A Grief Observed written after his wife’s death, C.S. Lewis reminds that “my idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?” The entrance of the Messiah into the world was the culmination of God’s shattering our idea of who God is. Humble, quiet, and nothing like what was expected, the blessed savior came. My grip on who I know God to be has to be shattered over again; but each time the shattering reminds me of a God who is near and who stands wildly beyond my expectations.
Maybe your own waiting has proven to be challenging and frustrating. You’re not alone in your discomfort of living in the unexpected. But to quote a wise and trusted friend, have the courage of allowing the Lord to write a story you weren’t expecting. The text tells us that the people standing with Elizabeth and Zechariah marveled at what kind of child this might be. This advent, may we together learn to marvel at what might become, holding the tension of broken expectation and the nearness of God as we hold to hope.