God is in the practice of interrupting ordinary time and ordinary events to do extraordinary things. It was an ordinary Sabbath when Zacharias went into the temple to burn incense. It was significant for him because it would have been his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to offer incense representing the prayers of God’s people, but it was an ordinary Sabbath day in the life of the multitudes gathered outside. And yet on this ordinary day, Zacharias would learn that even in his old age, God was going to do the extraordinary and give a son to him and his wife, Elizabeth. On this one day the extraordinary Christmas story, which had been waiting to unfold, has its beginning.
What if there was a whole multitude praying? What if every Lord’s day it could be observed that multitudes were praying at each church? We are not told if this large gathering of praying people was a regular Sabbath occurrence or if this was a special occasion. It would seem that with Luke’s usual attention to detail, he would have noted if this was unusual. Could it be that the multitudes, in hope of the coming of a Messiah, had continued to build week after week? Could it be that the prayers of the multitudes set the stage for people to receive the Christ? Could praying multitudes set the stage today for another awakening or even for the return of Christ?
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Zacharias to burn incense was just the beginning of an extraordinary day. Zacharias heard two incredible statements that day: first, “Your prayer has been heard,” and second, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Zacharias and Elizabeth were past the age of childbearing. The faithful, persistent prayer of Zacharias had been heard.
What if we persisted in prayer? Do we give up too soon? Are persistent prayers over many years preparing the way for God to do something extraordinary? Zacharias didn’t know all that God was planning when he began to pray for a son. God was working while Zacharias was praying.
Then there is Mary — an ordinary girl on an ordinary day who received an extraordinary announcement. The news was extraordinary on multiple levels. The first was a medical issue. How is it possible that a virgin is going to give birth? That alone was extraordinary. Then there was the matter of who this baby would be. She was to give birth to the Messiah, the Son of God. Her response: “Let it be to me according to your word.”
What if our prayers were prayers of submission like the prayer of Mary? Could it be that God wants to do extraordinary things in our lives, but they are so extraordinary that we are afraid to say, “Let it be to me according to your word”?
It appears that Zacharias prayed for a son for many years. His prayer was specific. I’m sure he prayed about other matters, but this was one prayer that was dear to his heart. Then there was Simeon (Luke 2:25–32). The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. When Simeon took the baby Jesus in His arms, he launched into a prayer of praise because “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” I have yet to meet anyone who has been promised that they would not see death until the return of Christ. However, we live with the promise that one day Jesus will return.
What if we praised like Simeon? This Christmas season we certainly celebrate the fact that we have met the Lord’s Christ. Imagine the celebration, the praises that will be offered when Jesus returns. Simeon’s words of praise are just the beginning of praises that will be sung by choirs of Christ-followers at his return.
Then there was Anna, who “served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:36–37). Prayer was her service to God. Imagine that — no agenda, no record of requests — she simply communed with God.
What if we prayed like Anna? What if we at least had seasons of simply worshipping the Lord in prayer — no requests, just worshipping the Father? We know that Anna was a prophetess. What if we had scores of people who spent time in the presence of the Lord like Anna? Would we be able to more clearly articulate the message of Christ simply because we have developed a deeper intimacy with Him?
The times in which we live are as ordinary and as troubled as they were in the time of Mary, Zacharias, Simeon, and Anna. It is in these times that God does extraordinary things. Will he find us praying with anticipation? Will we be ready to submit to His will? Are we living in anticipation of His return and looking forward to a time of great celebration? May our Christmas be filled with expectation, hope, and surrender!