Now why do we not say “yes” when God gives us glimpses of alternate, more faithful futures? I know for myself that I’m afraid of what would happen if I did. Fear inhibits faith. Zechariah is terrified when the angel arrives. The way this is portrayed in the movie the Nativity Story is spectacular, if you’ve not seen it: Zechariah enters the holy of holies, the incense is ascending, and there’s just a breath of wind blowing the incense as the angel speaks. And those first words spoken by an angel in Luke’s gospel are, “Fear not.” But of course Zechariah is terrified anyway. As soon as someone tells you not to do something, we automatically do it.
And fear is never far from the scene in this story—it permeates that first scene in the temple, and then surely Zechariah must have experienced fear when he could not speak; then when his tongue is finally loosed after John is named, “fear came over all their neighbors.” In the song of Zechariah, the goal of the promise of God to the children of Abraham is to “serve him without fear.” Freedom from fear is the promise of God, and it is our hope as people of faith that conquers our fear.
The way that Zechariah faces his fear is peculiarly human. John is not conceived by the Holy Spirit a la Jesus. Zechariah and Elizabeth had to, um, do something to bring his conception about. In my experience, that’s a tough act for men to do when they’re afraid. And yet he does it—they do it—they have the hope and the willingness to say “This time it will be different.” That is a profoundly hopeful, and concrete act.
We have a good friend who walked with us along our fertility struggles. On her refrigerator to this day is a copy of the first ultrasound of my son Nathan as a blob inside me attached to the fridge with a magnet that says, “Never never never give up.” If we remain in fear, we never try. If we can let go of our fear, hope can dawn.
Question 2: What are the fears we need to let go of in order to live in a place of joyful expectancy?