No, that baby in the fresco, found in the Tornabuoni Chapel in Florence, Italy, isn’t Jesus. He is John the Baptist, cousin to Jesus and the one who would announce the coming of the Messiah. Today is a good day to consider the story of his father, Zechariah. In particular, you might want to take time to hear his “song,” the prophetic declaration he makes when his tongue is unleashed.
Luke 1:18: Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
There is an odd reaction people sometimes have to gifts from God. I call it the “Zechariah Effect.”
We receive what we have so long desired. Clearly, what we receive is a blessing from God. And yet, we question whether what is happening is real.
I guess we could also call this the “Sarah Effect.” After all, Abraham’s wife laughed when she heard from a divine source that she would bear a child in old age.
The opposite to these startled, inappropriate responses is Mary’s response to hearing from the angel Gabriel that she would bear Christ. After asking a childlike “how” question, she simply replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
Be sure to read the full story of how Zechariah learned he and his wife would have a child in old age, a child who would come to be known as John the Baptist. (I preached about him last Sunday.) There’s no doubt Zechariah knew an angel standing in a very holy place was telling him good news. He simply struggled to believe!
Some of you may have ideas regarding why we might react to divine gifts in such ways. I can think of at least a couple of possibilities.
First, it’s possible we’ve lived with a particular form of brokenness for so long that we have learned to accommodate it, using little mind tricks to keep our related sadness or dysfunction at bay. It can be disturbing to discover God is going to disrupt our stasis, even if we’ve been preserving something negative in our lives.
Second, maybe we’re discovering our faith isn’t as strong as we thought. Even with a miracle before us, our human doubts may briefly outrun the increase in faith we are going to receive from the experience.
By biblical standards, Zechariah’s punishment was relatively mild. Sarah was chastised, but just slightly. It would appear God is patient with our human reactions, even if he does want a more Mary-like faith from us.
Lord, grant us not only the changes we seek for our lives, but the wisdom to recognize when they have arrived. Amen.