Author Eliza Tabor once said, “Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” For many the Holiday season is a time of intense disappointment, from the trivial, such as not receiving the gift you had asked for on Christmas morning, to the more serious, such as the turmoil of escalating family dysfunctions. But the reality of disappointment need not be a destructive force; it can be a tempering, strengthening force in our lives when we understand the providential hand of God directing these disappointments for our good.
Many Biblical examples come to mind when we think of those who endured suffering and disappointment, but since this is the Christmas season, it may be appropriate to re-visit the events surrounding the miraculous birth, not of our Savior, but of His cousin, John. The story of John the Baptist’s birth is one that is often overlooked in Scripture, but one that is very important to our understanding of God’s providential hand in bringing the Christ into the world. In the closing pages of the Old Testament, an obscure prophet by the name of Malachi wrote these words, “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
Some four centuries later, God moved on the heart of an evil but brilliant king, Herod the Great to erect this temple into which Messiah would come. History teaches us that Herod, the puppet king during the Roman occupation of Israel, was a megalomaniac. And he was so in love with himself that on every stone that made up the temple he branded his initials.
Many stones of the temple weighed as much as a jumbo jet, and the temple was visible miles away from Jerusalem. Herod wanted everyone who visited Jerusalem, a city whose population would swell to as many as one hundred thousand during Jewish feasts, to marvel at his great architectural accomplishments. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter one, Luke contrasts the backdrop of this historical landscape with the story of an unassuming country preacher by the name of Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth. The Bible also reports that they were both advanced in years and without children, a devastating and dangerous condition in their culture.
Zachariah would have been one of about 18, 000 priests in Israel at the time, leading his local synagogue of about 30 to 40 people in a community of only 50 to a 100 people. Twice a year, the priests were permitted to go to Jerusalem to serve at the temple. The desired job at the temple was to represent the people of God by entering the temple and offering a prayer at the altar of incense in the holy place. This honor was determined by the casting of lots, the ancient way of making a selection without showing favoritism; it was their version of flipping a coin. Zachariah could have conceivably gone to Jerusalem for many years competing with upwards of 750 other priests for this one spot of service. And this was but one of twenty four other divisions of priest throughout Israel hoping for this position of service. So his experience was much like mine on the playground when we would play games -he was never picked. But on a specific day recorded in Luke, chapter one everything changed.
After years of disappointment for Zachariah, it was God who directed his selection. As Proverbs 16:33 reveals, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” It was in the holy place of service that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah, announcing to him that his expectation for the arrival of Messiah and his desire for a child would be answered. The Angel added in Luke 1:15, speaking of the child that would be born to Zachariah and Elizabeth, “for he will be great before the Lord.” The Angel of the Lord revealed the reality of God’s perspective, announcing that true greatness was not in the external trappings of an earthly king who declared his greatness by burning his logo onto everything he built, but in the quiet faithfulness of an elderly couple and the bold preaching of a miracle baby who would grow up to prepare the way of the Lord.
As exemplified in the lives of Zachariah and Elizabeth, in our disappointments it can be very easy to lose sight of the fact that God is in charge of our destiny and it is He who chooses to use our disappointments as the means of His blessing to the world.