The circumstances of Elizabeth were different from those of Hannah. In Elizabeth’s case she was older beyond having children. Her husband Zechariah was a priest who was chosen to serve at the altar of the Lord. We don’t see Elizabeth in anguished prayer like Hannah. But we catch a glimpse of her prayer in the interaction between Zechariah and the angel Gabriel. So much is happening as Luke introduces the story of Jesus’ birth, that it is easy to almost slip past the words, Your prayer has been heard. I think by association this is also Elizabeth’s prayer that is answered. Perhaps Zechariah had used the proximity to the presence of God at the altar, to offer the prayer he and Elizabeth had shared over the years. Imagine when Zechariah went home and gave Elizabeth this news. Having been made silent, as a sign, I wonder how he conveyed the news?
The angel acknowledged this prayer for a son and stated the prayer had been heard and would be granted. This child, born to them, raised by them would carry the message of hope that Israel was longing to hear. John would be: Great in the sight of the Lord, Turning the hearts of people to God, and Preparing the Way for the Lord. Later we read more details in the prophecy of Zechariah, that John would be a prophet, giving knowledge of salvation because of the tender mercy of God and shining a light on those living in darkness. (Luke 1:76–79)
Like many others around the world, I enjoyed watching the eclipse of the moon last week. As the earth cast its shadow over the moon, the light of the moon began to fade. Perhaps, in a similar way, the current lockdown has cast a shadow over our lives, an eclipse in which we have felt the darkness stretch over us. Zechariah spoke words of hope, speaking of the rising sun, shining from heaven on those living in darkness. Hope is like a light, that dispels shadows and disperses darkness.
Often advent is filled with end of year dinners and the Christmas rush. This year, more than others in my lifetime, we have more serious matters on our minds. I imagine in these COVID days there are a number of battered souls, worn and weary, lacking hope. Those who feel weak, unstable, broken, alone and lonely. Perhaps this is you, or someone you know. Perhaps you have found yourself praying in desperation like Hannah, clinging to God as your only hope or like Elizabeth, for whom hope seemed too late, to have passed by unfulfilled. In Zechariah’s prophecy, he spoke of the tender mercy of our God. More than ever, we need the tender mercy of God, a gentle, caring, sensitive mercy. Isaiah expressed hope in the tender care of the messiah, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3) God deals gently with the bruised and rekindles the smouldering wick. This is the merciful nature of God in whom we find hope of salvation, forgiveness, tender mercy, light and peace.
As the Psalmist wrote “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:5) Take that hope to your heart. Take that hope to your family and friends. Allow God to minister to you, your family and friends with his tender mercy, renewing hope and fulfilling your hope in Christ.
Can you think of people or situations in our city where hope is in short supply?
Why do you think hope deferred makes the heart sick?
Do you have an example of hope deferred you can share with the group?
How are Hannah and Elizabeth models of hope?
What hope do you find in the words of the angel or the prophecy of Zechariah?
Is there a person or situation into which you could allow God to use you to express tender mercy?
Rev John Malcolm