The Barren Places
This time of year, I love turning in the pages of my Bible to read the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. Each time, I wonder if the words will sound trite or boring, and each time I am captivated anew.
I was reading in Luke 1 about Zacharias’ response to the angel and it dawned on me afresh, anew, about the way God broke into the world, about how this whole Christmas story began and begins.
Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are barren. The Bible doesn’t give us the specifics, but I can imagine this couple who loved God and loved His people spent years in prayer, asking Yahweh to open Elizabeth’s womb. But her womb remained barren and heaven remained silent.
In fact, heaven had been silent for longer than the totality of Zacharias and Elizabeth’s prayers. Heaven had been silent for 400 years. After God spoke through the prophet Malachi in Malachi 4:5-6, saying, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse,” the Word of the Lord was sealed for 400 years. It was sealed through Greece’s triumph over Israel; it was sealed through a pagan pig’s slaughter in the temple’s most holy place; and it was sealed through Roman occupation. God’s people had groaned, and while we know God heard, we also know God was silent. No prophets. No Davidic kings on the throne. No recorded miracles. No answers. Only questions filling the silent spaces.
But God broke the silence by filling the barren space in a womb.
His first response to deliverance was to overcome barrenness.
And don’t you wish you could have seen the look on Elizabeth’s face, one who was “advanced in years,” (Luke 1:7) one who must have had wrinkles in her skin and grey at her temples, when she first discovered that she was pregnant?
The one in her womb was “Elijah the prophet” of whom Malachi spoke before heaven was sealed. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. John’s arrival was the first word spoken to prepare God’s people for the final Word spoken. “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten fro m the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:6-8, 14).
And John’s arrival from a barren womb made a fruitful womb is the precedent for how Christ still comes – He comes into the barren places. He comes into the places where you and I are least expecting it. He comes where the branch has long been withered; He comes where the ground is cracked and dry; He comes where the heart is broken and the desire forgotten; He comes where dreams are forsaken and the soul is aching. He comes.
So if you are looking for a Word this Christmas, look first to the barren place, the place God often comes when He wants to speak. Sometimes He gives a child, sometimes He gives an answer, but He always gives Himself. For the barren place is sacred space God makes for Himself to come.
To prepare the way in your heart this Christmas for the Child who came and the King who is coming, consider praying through the barren places and hurting places in your heart using this prayer guide: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way 2016
And be expectant. Expectant that because God came, He will come again to all the places in our hearts that are aching and longing for life and fruitfulness to grow.
Just ask Elizabeth, the fruitful one.
For more on asking God to fill the barren places, walk through Waiting on the Lord in the new year, and watch and wait expectantly for Christ to come to the places you least expect.