Archives for December 2012

Girls’ Day Out – Fall, 2008 – Archive-Diving

Another dip into the draft dumpster to salvage this memory from the month after our son-in-law’s death in October of 2008. This was a lovely, small event that marked an important step in healing on the road to recovery for all of us, most especially for Lisa. And I think milestones need to be noted and remembered.

It was raining Saturday. Enough to keep the windshield wipers in full-time swish mode for the entire drive from here back through the hills to Ojai. 

My two daughters, my daughter-in-law and I climbed into my trusty blue Honda Pilot and braved the elements to visit the world-famous Spa Ojai at the Ojai Valley Inn. 

A most interesting experience – not something that we do with any frequency at all (a first visit to the place for 3 of the 4 of us) – and one that we enjoyed. 

The place was busy, busy, busy. No sign of economic crisis here! Literally dozens of people, all wearing white spa robes, sitting, resting, hot-tubbing, sipping cold water with sliced cucumber and mint or warming up with hot herbal tea. In the women’s hot tub area, every single chaise lounge was filled with a white-robed, resting female. 

One exception to the white robes was a mother/daughter pair, there to celebrate the daughter’s 21st birthday, dressed identically in hot pink tank tops with gold sequined hearts spread across the entire front. 

I must admit to some hesitance in disrobing in a common locker space, no matter how elegant. It’s been a while! All of us remembered high school gym class and the mixed emotions of that entire experience. But as I allowed myself to relax, I began to notice that there were all kinds and types of women around me – every decade, every size, every shape. Not a ton of racial or ethnic diversity, but a little. Most were there to unwind, to step away from the swirl of daily life for a few hours, and that’s a very good thing. Too bad it’s such an expensive thing – at least at this particular place! 

My recently widowed eldest daughter Lisa had received a loving gift from some family members in the form of a gift card for the spa and she wanted to treat us all to a pedicure. We did it in twos, and I must say it was a lovely, indulgent, softly sensuous experience. 

As you can see by the delightfully scrubbed, trimmed and painted toenails above, we all chose different colors, but ended up with the same affect: rested bodies and spirits. I also had a massage – in a beautiful small room with its own small fireplace and a heated massage table. Bliss. 

Then we dined in the spa restaurant for a late lunch, enjoying the outing and the time together. The drive home was rain-free and absolutely gorgeous. Rolling green hills and a leisurely water-side mile or two along Lake Casitas. 

We arrived in time to freshen up, join the men/boys and then dine out together at Piatti’s to celebrate our eldest grandson’s 18th birthday, returning home to yet another intense sensual experience – chocolate cake! – homemade with love and skill by our daughter-in-law. Dark cake, dark ganache, nutella on one layer, hazelnuts on the outside edge and chopped up Skor bars in the filling. Oh my, my, my.

Overall, it was a very delightful and relaxing weekend together – despite a few bad colds and one very sick 3-year-old who coughed so hard, he had to go home from the restaurant to clean up and recover before rejoining us just in time for dinner – which he devoured. Can’t let great homemade mac and cheese go to waste! 

I am more grateful for the gift of family than I can possibly put into words. Each of these women is a remarkable individual – caring, smart and beautiful. We have walked through an intensely difficult time together and will continue to try and find our way through this wilderness territory called grief, dependent on God and one another to make it to the other side. 

And freshly painted toenails are their own strange and wonderful therapy!

An African Journey: Post Six – The Gift of Sight

A continuing series of reflections built around newly-scanned photos from long ago. From 1966-1968, we lived in Choma, Zambia, teaching school, running a ‘book-room’ (a small book store with a surprising reach, providing educational resources to the entire southern province), living in close quarters with missionaries and other volunteer workers and enjoying wonderful opportunities to travel and explore the great continent of Africa.

We were so young and our eyes were not as finely tuned as they are now. Too often, we didn’t know what we were seeing, we didn’t value what came to us as gift and treasure because of the remarkable place in which we were living and the truly gifted and committed friends who shared that living space with us. 

But when we took the time to move out from the schedules and the commitments, to travel and see the sights — that’s when our eyes finally began to open and we enjoyed brief moments of insight, clarity and wonder.
Driving through a wide variety of ‘game parks’ was a visual delight, a smorgasbord of color, imaginative creative detail and environmental adaptability.
From long-necked giraffes to graceful gazelles,
to the realities of ‘nature, red in tooth and claw,’
a beautiful impala, recently killed by a mama cheetah who had three hungry cubs to feed
we developed a deeper appreciation for God’s created order
and for the realities of wildlife conservation and its importance.
Almost our first weekend there, we traveled out into the bush for a baptism ceremony, staying overnight in this grass hut.
One night.
My husband was sick the entire night
and I was pretty much terrified.
Yet people around the world live in spaces like this all the time. How blessed we are to live with the creature comforts we do — and how valuable it is to experience even a little bit of what everyday life is like 
for so many people in this world. 
Watching a crew of strong African men create the building blocks for homes and hospitals brought the sober realization that our friends could not take a trip to the nearby home improvement center and purchase everything they needed for a DIY project. These adobe bricks required hard work, several days in the sun to harden up, and then the actual building could commence.
We were newlyweds while we lived in Zambia and it was important for us to remember that from time to time.
When our friends lived nearby, we took a couple of short trips together, just for fun and exploration.
This one was to the capital of Lusaka, enjoying the closest thing to a department store within a couple of hundred miles, admiring ‘curios’ being sold by the side of the road and making a stop at a beautiful roadside garden.
This is the president’s mansion just outside of Lusaka. Kenneth Kaunda was the first president of this new land and he remained in office for nearly 30 years.
After Lisa was born, we took that corrugated dirt road a lot further into the bush for a weekend with a sports-master friend who lived and worked 100 miles into the back country, near the Kafue River.
Dick was the sports-master at Choma Secondary School.
He also taught civics and a beginning business class called ‘commerce.’
This kind gentleman (whose name we have forgotten) came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to work and support his family.
His family, however, did not make the move.
We enjoyed a great soccer match and a wonderful curry dinner, which he made for us in his small kitchen.
This bridge crosses the Kafue River, either just south of Lusaka or out further into the bush. Since the road is paved, I’m guessing we’re nearer to city life in this picture.
But this is a river shot from further in the back country
and this cheerful young man played us a tune somewhere off the paved road.
Early in our time there, we went with our friends to see Kafue Dam, one of the more modern wonders of this new country.
We were too naive to realize that swimming in a reservoir is not a great idea AND that the waters in this place contain really harmful parasites. Fortunately, we did not become infected.

While he worked in the bookroom, before he began teaching, my husband took a trip to the mining towns of Ndola, Broken Hill and Kitwe.
Copper mining was hugely important and the rise and fall of copper prices has wreaked havoc with Zambian economy for decades.
When he did begin to work at the secondary school, it turned out that my husband was an excellent teacher, investing heavily in his students. He found a series of exams published in Britain, designed for commerce and business students, and he helped his small class of about a dozen students prepare for and pass them. This provided them with some important certification of excellence as they prepared to move out into living in the 20th century, finding a job and supporting a family.
He also took his students on some excellent field trips.
A larger group went in the back of a big truck to see Victoria Falls, almost all of them for the first time in their lives.

And he took his civics class to the capital city to tour the governmental buildings and see first-hand how their new democracy was working.
It was his job as the sports-master, however, that brought him the greatest joy and enabled him to travel to a variety of different secondary school settings in our district. We had two champion distance runners, pictured below — and their names were Hercules and Samson. No kidding. 
And they were great runners.
We have tried several times to discover what became of these young men and others of those we loved while we lived among them. We kept track pretty well for about five years. And then the AIDS epidemic began in southern Africa and many of the students we knew were lost to that dreadful disease, most of them in the earliest years of its scourge-like impact on the continent, before we even knew what it was.

To this day, we are grateful for the experiences of 45 years ago, and we have been marked in deep and significant ways by our time living 
and working in a cross-cultural setting. 
At some point, I hope to write more reflectively about the missionary sub-culture and its impact on our thinking 
about how we did church in the mid-20th century.
There is much to criticize and regret.

But there is also much to celebrate and treasure,
chiefly the faithfulness of previous generations who came and built schools and hospitals as well as churches and chapels. Workers who believed that to be true to the gospel meant living it out in a holistic way, taking the good news to people who needed to experience it as well as hear it, 
who deserved education and health care 
as well as gospel tracts and evangelistic sermons,
servants who took Jesus’ own stated commission from the pages of Isaiah, who brought sight to the blind, health to the sick, hope to the downhearted.
The good work that continues in that place is built on that sturdy foundation and we thank God for it, and for them.

“When I’m 64…” – 2009 – Archive-Diving

And here is one more from the deep pit of 2009 — a post written on my birthday that year.

Well, in 95 minutes, I will be.

Who woulda thunk it? 
How is it possible to feel every age I’ve ever been – but this one, least of all?

At some points, my 14-year-old self is just inside my skin – especially when I feel naive, gullible, misled.

At other points, my feisty, unnecessarily self-confident 22-year-old self pops up and surprises me with her strong opinions and readiness to express them.

There are even those rare moments when a tall-for-her-age 5-year-old shows up, filled with joie-de-vivre whenever the sun is shining and the water is clear.

Sadly, the 64-year-old shows up when I have to stand up after sitting a while, or climb stairs that are uneven, or try to read the really fine print. 

 And yet…there is something to be said for age. Not much, but….something.

Perhaps the best thing is that every age I have ever been is still available to me at a moment’s notice, that what I’ve learned at each of those ages is usually pretty close to the surface when needed, that I know that the reservoirs of love, affection, commitment developed over a lifetime are deeper than I could have imagined at 5, 14, 22 or even 45.

I am deeply grateful that my partner of 43 years still chooses to love me, ‘when I’m 64.’

And overall, life has been good; through it all, God is good.

My restless, often rebellious nature can still trip me up from time to time, but one good thing about 64 is that I have learned to be just a little bit more patient with those parts of myself, sometimes even grateful for them.

Restlessness can lead to dissatisfaction with the status quo and a willingness to make changes when needed.

Even rebelliousness has its plusses, for asking questions about seemingly foregone conclusions can keep the fires of curiosity burning. And I never did believe it killed the cat!

Happy Birthday to me. I am glad I was born, I am grateful for my life, I hope it lasts a while longer.

Being a Grandparent… Archive Diving, May 2009

Getting ready for the Big Blog Move next week, so stay tuned! 
In the process of transferring all my posts, I’m going through my draft pile and posting a few things that never made the first cut. They’re not stellar writing samples, but they do provide some continuity in our family story, so I’m moving them over to the new site. This one is truly dated because Grace is now a charming first-grader and seven years old!

Today was a welcome dose of normalcy. After one solid week of terrorizing, wind-driven fires all around us here in Santa Barbara, trying to do some semblance of ministry while choosing which items to accompany us in evacuation, worshipping in a hotel ballroom because our sanctuary – for the 2nd time in six months – was off-limits due to encroaching flames – it was absolutely delightful to just be Nana for a while today.

Gracie is our youngest grandchild and only granddaughter. She is 3.5 years old, smart as a whip and, of course, absolutely adorable, stunningly beautiful, funny, lovable, creative and an all-around exceptional child (as are all of our six grandsons, it goes without saying. Lovely thing about grandparenthood – you get to brag as much as you like). And she is the only one of our kids to live within easy distance for babysitting and special events.

Grace’s parents were working today and unable to attend her pre-school Mother’s Day Program and Luncheon – so I got to go. Such fun!

Her class, Room One, sang two songs by themselves (all of them in bird costumes, which were assigned to their parents to create. Rachel sewed a lovely white plastic set of ‘feathers’ and created a crown-of-flame-feathers headpiece.)

Then Room Two sang two songs, and Room Three did 4 short Shel Silverstein poems in batches of 3 or 4 kids, and then sang two additional songs. 

Then all the classes together sang two more songs, complete with hand motions, one of which was truly wonderful to hear and to watch. Something about sewing new clothes for every member of the family – all you need is: (add one with each verse)
     a sewing machine (appropriate noises), (this one for mama)
     a bolt of material (extreme hand motions to each side), (this one for papa)
     a tape measure (z-z-z-i-p, z-z-z-u-p), (this one for sister)
     a pair of scissors (snip, snip, snip), (this one for brother)
     a steam iron (pss, pss, pss), (this one for baby), and…
    a washing machine (can’t remember the sound for this one! (this one for the whole entire family)

And then we feasted! And Gracie is a great eater – plowed through a small croissant sandwich with turkey, a KFC drumstick, a handful of grapes and a small piece of cake without even blinking.

I also got to pick her up at the end of the day and we went to the village grocer for supplies and came home and made chocolate chip cookies. Only she wasn’t so sure about the oatmeal I included. A purist, I guess.

At any rate, it was good for me in every way possible – including my soul. A reminder that despite the horrors and the difficulties, life itself is a gift, that children are high on the list of why that is true, and that continuity, family, music and food are to be enjoyed and relished. I am grateful.

An Advent Journey: Journey’s End! Christmas.

“‘Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you.’ declares the LORD. ‘Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the LORD, all people, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.'” — Zechariah 2:10-13, TNIV

“My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life. Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we must love each other. 

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is truly in our hearts. 

God has given us his Spirit. That is how we know that we are one with him, just as he is one with us. God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. We saw his Son and are now telling others about him. God stays one with everyone who openly says that Jesus is the Son of God. That how we stay one with God and are sure that God loves us.

God is love. If we keep on loving others, we will stay one in our hearts with God, and he will stay one with us.” — 1 John 4:7-16, CEV

May the God from whom all love flows,
bless you with joy,
good stories,
great food,
and opportunities
to share the Good News
as you gather with family and friends
on this great Feast Day
of Christmas!

 And may the One who came among us,
lighten your hearts,
sing into your spirits,
heal your wounds,
and call you his own.
Merry Christmas!!

An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 23

“Then I was told:

“I am coming soon! And when I come, I will reward everyone for what they have done. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. 

God will bless all who have washed their robes. They will each have the right to eat fruit from the tree that gives life, and they can enter the gates of the city. But outside the city will be dogs, witches, immoral people, murderers, idol worshippers, and everyone who loves to tell lies and do wrong. 

I am Jesus! And I am the one who sent my angel to tell all of you these things for the churches. I am David’s Great Descendant, and I am also the bright morning star.’

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ 

Everyone who hears this should say, ‘Come!’ 

If you are thirsty, come! If you want life-giving water, come and take it. It’s free! 

The one who has spoken these things say, ‘I am coming soon!’

So, Lord Jesus, please come soon!

I pray that the Lord Jesus will be kind to all of you.”
 — Revelation 22:12-17, 21, CEV

Oh, Jesus! Please, come soon! 
     Come in our hearts, 
          in our homes, 
               in our schools, 
                    in our churches, 
                          in our neighborhoods, 
           in our people. 

Be the bright morning star, 
     the one who makes it possible for us 
          to wash our robes and our souls and ourselves
               to wash and come forth CLEAN. 

Yes, we are thirsty! We are dying of thirst, quite literally. 
     Will you help us to help ourselves and one another 
          to this water that quenches, 
               this water that gives life? 

We wait for you all year long, all life long. 

And you come in myriad ways, both small and great. 

You come in humming birds and dolphins; 
you come in young children and old saints; 
you come in a warm smile 
     and a sweet word 
          and a strong stand for justice. 
You come in the smile of a cancer patient, 
     the whispered hallelujahs of a dying man, 
          the yearning words of the poet,
               and the earthy words of the prophet.
You come in the beauties of the earth
     and the wonders of the heavens;
in the smell of the lilac,
    the quiet of the snowfall,
          the roar of the thunder,
               the splendor of a sunset.
And you come in the night, squealing and squalling,
     falling onto the earthen floor of an animal stall,
          fragile and frightened and blinking at the lamplight,
searching for the voice you know,
     the one you heard, swishing in the amniotic fluid, 
          hidden in the dark all those months.
You come as one of us,
     to show us the way,
          to lead us home.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Come!

An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 22, Fourth Sunday

“And Mary responded,

     ‘Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
           How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
      For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
         and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
      For the Mighty One is holy,
         and he has done great things for me.
      He shows mercy from generation to generation
         to all who fear him.
      His mighty arm has done tremendous things1
         He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
      He had brought down princes from their thrones
         and exalted the humble.
      He has helped his servant Israel
         and remembered to be merciful.
      For he made this promise to our ancestors,
         to Abraham and his children forever.'”
            — Luke 1:46b-55

Denim tennis shoes under her silky blue robe. Somehow it was perfect for Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was the first grade Christmas program at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School, and our granddaughter Gracie was an angel. She was, as usual, captivating, clear-spoken, smiling and T-A-L-L. I loved watching her stand up straight, speak into the microphone, even with so many teeth missing, and read her portion of the narrative before joining the angel band for a rousing rendition of, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

But it was the tennis shoes peeking out of the blue robe that caught my eye and eventually my heart that Monday afternoon, the Monday after Newtown. 

Just ordinary, everyday tennis shoes. 

Just an ordinary, everyday girl, that Mary. Living her life, loving her family, pleasing God by her very existence, her very ordinariness. 

And then, out of her mouth, this song springs forth. Prophetic words, sung with confidence and power and joy and thanksgiving, ringing with justice and righteousness and LIFE.   So much for ordinary. 

For, in truth, there is no ordinary child, is there? Each one is a treasure, a living, breathing bundle of possibility. Someone clearly took good care of Mary as she was growing from childhood to young adulthood. I wonder how we care for our girls. . .

What if we looked at every little girl on this globe as a Mary? A vision of loveliness and grace, ready at any given moment to burst forth in glorious song.

How might we treat or children with such care and tenderness and encouragement and hope? 

Maybe by giving them blue denim tennis shoes to keep them rooted to the earth. And a blue silk robe to help them reach for the heavens.

Thank you for Mary and her song, Lord. For her startling insight and her strong words; for her willingness to bridge the gap between earth and heaven. Help me to sing strongly, too, Lord. To sing of hope and of sorrow, of joy and of loss, of promise and of fulfillment. Help me to sing of you and for you  and to you.

An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 21

“Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit and sang out exuberantly,

‘You are so blessed among women,
   and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
   the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
   greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
   skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
   believed every word would come true!’

And Mary said,

   ‘I’m bursting with God-news;
      I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
   God took one look at me, and look what happened —
      I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
   What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
      the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
   His mercy flows in wave after wave
      on those who are in awe before him.
   He bared his arm and showed his strength,
      scattered the bluffing braggarts.
   He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
      pulled victims out of the mud.
   The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
      the callous rich were left out in the cold.
   He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
      he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
   It’s exactly what he promised,
      beginning with Abraham and right up to now.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”
— Luke 1:39-56, The Message

She was a delight! Oh, she felt a little woozy from time to time, and tired easily — but then, that’s to be expected when you’re expecting, right? 

From the moment she walked in the door, that girl fairly danced her way right into my heart. There we were, the old one and the young one, both full up with boys, gifts straight from God to each of us. 

And I completely believed her story about the angel and the Holy Spirit visit — yes, it was too familiar. That Gabriel has been very busy, bringing such joyous news to our family. 

Cousins! Isn’t it wonderful? 

Even before they see each other face-to-face, they know one another. And my own wee babe will lead the way, pointing others to this Special Child carried by my dear, dear, Mary. 

There is a slight shadow — we both sense it and we wonder . . . what will become of these boys, these gifts, these ones we love so much even before we gaze upon their soft skin? 

Yet we are choosing to trust. To believe that God’s plans are good plans, that our boys are right where they are supposed to be, exactly in the middle of God’s provision for our people. 

So of course, we sing! And of course, we dance! And of course, we let our lungs fill with the good, sweet smell of thanksgiving and praise. And then we breathe it out, all over each other, all over this little town. 

And someday, all over this wide, wide world.

Oh, Lord! Thank you so much for these women, for this old one and this young one. Thank you for their good hearts, their righteous choices, their loyalty and their commitment. They must have had moments of fear and wonder, yet here they are — living in trust, choosing joy, thanking you. Help me to do the same, day in and day out.

An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 20

“One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. The angel greeted Mary and said, ‘You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.’

Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. Then the angel told Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.’

Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this happen? I am not married!’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. Nothing is impossible for God!’

Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.’ And the angel left her.
— Luke 1:26-38, CEV

It was such an ordinary day. Really, it was. 

I was helping my mother with the laundry, day-dreaming a little about Joseph, the kind-hearted carpenter from Nazareth I was just getting to know and would soon marry. 

It was late afternoon and the sun was sinking slowly into the western sky, drawing long shadows in the dust. I sat in the shade of a tamarind tree and closed my eyes for just a moment. 

I felt him first, even before I saw him. He actually radiated a kind of heat. And the light? Oh my, this Gabriel creature was bright. And so gentle with me. He could see that I was frightened. Stunned might be a better word. 

Why in the world would such a glorious creature be standing in front of a 14-year-old girl from a backwater town on a warm summer evening? 

To bring me a message from God on High, a message of such glory and such promise. . . and such heartache and such pain. Only I did not know that then. I only knew I had been chosen, singled out. I had been given a gift. And a beautiful, unimaginable burden. 

And the Spirit came with power upon me. In an instant, my life as I knew it was over. And a new life had begun, growing slowly inside me, then outside me, then away from me. 

And now, it is I who live in him — in him alone. My Lord, and my God.

A poem-prayer from St. John of the Cross: 

If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy, and say,
“I need shelter for the night,
please take me inside your heart, my time is close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul,
you will witness the sublime intimacy,
the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever,
as she grasps your hand for help,
for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yes there, under the dome of your being
does creation come into existence eternally,
through your womb, dear pilgrim — the sacred womb of your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help,
for each of us is his beloved servant, never far.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street
pregnant with Light and sing. . .

An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 19

“When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. 

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. 

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.’

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.’ 

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! but now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary. 

When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. ‘How kind the Lord is!’ she exclaimed. ‘He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.'” — Luke 1:5-25, NLT

Just climbing up all these steps is hard work when you’ve lived as long as I have. Yet even as I creak my way to the top, I am excited right down to my toes tonight. The lot has fallen to me. My once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity awaits: the Holy of Holies! The inner sanctuary, and I, poor old childless Zechariah — I get to light the incense and speak to God! 

But — what is this? What is this brightness, this burning beauty, right before these tired old eyes? Am I having a stroke? A hallucination? It speaks! Oh, my LORD!

Like a dream, the vision vanishes as quickly as it appeared and I am left speechless. Literally. Without a word to say, no story to tell. . . except this one: I have heard from God. And God has heard from me! The prayers of my heart are becoming real. The age of miracles is not past.

I am living, breathing proof of that truth: there is life yet in this ancient frame! My good woman, old as she is, will ripen with fruit that we make together. And this boy, this John? He will be wild and fierce and do the good, hard work of reconciliation. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Like the prophets of old, my boy will reverse my role – I speak to God on behalf of the people. That boy, that JOHN – he will speak to the people on behalf of God Almighty! Glory be.

Thank you for these good, good people in the story; for Zechariah and Elizabeth and John — gifts to the world, gifts to us. Thank you that you tell your story of redemption through ordinary, extraordinary people like them. Like us. We are never too old to see a promise fulfilled. We are never too young to carry the word of grace to the world. Thanks be to God!