Christmas day at my grandparents’ farmhouse was always a sweet combination of love and chaos—anyone with a large family can probably relate. Each of my grandparents’ four kids (my mom included) brought their entire family to the farmhouse with all of their wrapped presents in tow. All thirty or so of us exchanged gifts one by one—we’re talking hours upon hours of opening presents together. But before any gift was ever unwrapped, we always honored the family tradition of sharing the year’s highlights. From the adults to the kids, we all shared what God had done in our lives over the past year—tears and laughs always accompanied the stories. In reflection, those were some of my favorite Christmas memories. But at the time, I vividly recall feeling deeply uncomfortable and hesitant to talk about God and praise Him for what He was doing in my life. If I was to be really honest, I think it was because I had yet to really have a personal encounter with Him.
Authentic worship always comes from a fresh advent of Him.
Over the years that followed, I encountered and fell in love with God, and Christmas began to mean so much more to me than a pile of presents under the family tree. When my grandparents eventually passed away and my aunts and uncles’ families grew far too large to combine Christmases, we began new traditions at my parents’ home in Seattle. But just like Christmases of old, we still share our highlights before the gift exchange. Having now experienced a Holy Spirit advent in my life, I can’t help but boast about the Lord and His good work in my heart when my turn to share comes! I think that’s how it is with the Lord. When revelation of Him is void, our tongue is tied and our worship suffers. But when we experience everyday advents, it leads to a soft heart of praise.
The same is true for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Having spent five months in seclusion with the Lord having her heart deep cleaned and prepared for a fresh advent, one day Elizabeth is greeted by Mary the mother of Jesus (who had just had her own angel advent and supernatural conception). Scriptures say that ‘when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby ]John] leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 1:40-41). Because of the preparation that had already been done in Elizabeth’s heart, she was fully ready for this arrival of the Holy Spirit at her first encounter with Jesus (even in the womb). What a beautiful moment that must have been!
Mary ended up staying with Elizabeth for about three months, and at some point during that time she penned one of the most beautiful praise songs in scripture. Though Mary gets credit for writing the song, Elizabeth was present when it was written. So I like to think of it as a co-write: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour…He has filled the hungry with good things’ (Luke 1:46-55). A Holy Spirit advent always leads to authentic worship!
In the same way, Zechariah’s preparation season of silence made ready his heart for a Holy Spirit advent of His own. While Elizabeth’s heart was prepared and filled in the fifth month of her pregnancy, it took the Lord a little longer to work on the lack of faith in Zechariah’s heart. Soon after their son was born, they had still not officially given him a name. Naming was significant in Jewish tradition, and it was custom to name a child after his father . So all of the friends and family naturally suggested they call him Zechariah. Still silenced by God and unable to speak, they gave Zechariah the last word on the child’s name. The significance of this moment is profound. After more than nine months of silence while God dealt with his lack of faith, Zechariah now had a choice to make—cave to the pressure of logic and his people’s tradition or obey, in faith, the word God clearly gave him, ‘You are to call him John’. The family handed him a writing tablet and on it he wrote his answer; we will name the boy, John. An absolute act of faith! In that moment of obedience, Scripture says that ‘immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God…Filled with the Holy Spirit, he began to prophesy’ (Luke 1:64-67). God cleared out Zechariah’s lack of faith and prepared him for a fresh advent of His Spirit.
And just like Elizabeth, his natural response was one of authentic worship! He, too, penned a beautiful praise song to God, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to…enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days’ (Luke 1:67-75). Out of this heart disposition, he then dedicated John to the Lord and anointed his ministry—charging him to ‘prepare the way for Him…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace’ (Luke 1:76-79).
Having been intentionally prepared by God, just a few months after this beautiful advent the earth received the most important advent in all of history—in the form of a baby named Jesus.
This advent season, if your worship has grown dull or your heart feels numb, perhaps you are in need of a fresh advent of His presence. And if that is the case, pray for a fresh anticipation for Him—look for God all around you! And do the hard work of preparing room for Him…even if that process is painful. Even if it leads you into the desert. Or into a season of silence. Or seclusion. Trust Him. Allow the hand of God to reach into the dark places of your heart that you’ve fought so hard to keep hidden.
An advent will come on the other side. And a heart of worship will come forth like never before. That is my Christmas prayer for you and for me.
‘And heaven and nature sing. And heaven and nature sing. And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.'