We can get many things out of the Christmas narrative. Obviously there’s the main focus of God sending the Savior born in a manger. But there’s something else that really caught my eye this year from an often overlooked part of the story. That’s the issue of unanswered prayer.
This year in particular has been really challenging for many people on many levels, from mass shootings to terrorists to an ambassador abandoned and gunned down to suffering among my own friends and family. When tragedy strikes, people are often left with a lot of questions. And almost always they question and even blame God and feel abandoned by Him. It seems like at these times even atheists and agnostics can get very spiritual, if only just long enough to express further disdain for believing in a God who doesn’t seem to be there.
But it doesn’t necessarily take a tragedy to feel abandoned by God. It just takes time, empty space, a delay, a disappointment, an unanswered prayer. To have a relationship with someone, you need interaction. And when it’s with Someone you can’t see directly, you need constant interaction. When there’s suddenly an interruption, a silence, no interaction, no movement, no stirring of the waters, you can begin to feel empty, hopeless, confused, scared, and alone. Even people with the strongest faith can have times of doubts and questions about things we don’t understand. And that’s where Christmas comes in.
Do you remember in school when your math teacher wanted you to show your work for how you got the answer? Who cares, right? I mean, you got the right answer. Do all the steps you took really matter as long as you got there? You obviously knew what you were doing even if you can’t explain it. And isn’t it better if you can just jump right to the end and skip over a few things rather than get bogged down with details? Well, maybe. If you’re right every single time, then it might not seem to matter a lot. But if you’re ever wrong, seeing the steps can sure make a difference in tracking down the error.
See, part of your math teacher’s goal was teaching you good habits. But it was also to teach you how to appreciate things. We can miss a lot of things in life if we’re always just jumping to the end. Ok, if you jump right to dying, you’ve missed about everything in living. 😉 But sometimes we’re just looking too far ahead and miss something important only a few steps back. And I caught that this year when considering Christmas. Christmas didn’t just happen. It’s a summation, the end result of a long process. But all along the way are steps important in their own right. And I want to take a few steps back from the birth of Christ to focus on one of those.
In Luke 1 we find a married couple named Zacharias and Elizabeth (let’s call them Zac and Liz). They had lived a full life. They’d grown old together. They seemed happy. And like many married couples, they had wanted children. But for some reason, they never had any. And at some point, they just accepted that they were never gonna have kids and gave up trying and gave up praying about it. Have you ever felt like that? Maybe not about kids, but other things you’ve hoped and prayed for that didn’t ever come. So, you just gave up, moved on, let it go, forgot about it. That’s what Zac and Liz had done. But something very interesting happened. An angel named Gabriel suddenly showed up one day and said, Oh, by the way, you’re going to have a son. Actually it wasn’t even a by the way afterthought. The message about having a son was the very reason he appeared. Pretty cool, huh? Except remember that Zac and Liz were old, well past the age of getting pregnant and giving birth…well, by our understanding at least.
See, God isn’t limited by time or space or anything. He made everything to operate within certain rules, but when necessary He modifies those rules to meet the need of the situation. That’s what we call a miracle. Nothing is impossible with God, and all things are possible to those who believe and trust God. Zac and Liz may have thought God forgot about them having kids. They gave up hope maybe even 40 or 50 years earlier. But God hadn’t forgotten or even denied them. What they had asked just had to be perfectly timed. It was a step, a part of a much bigger plan than they could have imagined. There were things they just didn’t understand. They had no idea that the child they prayed for would be one of the most important in all of history!
Do you have unanswered prayers you think God forgot? He really hasn’t. In fact, He keeps all your tears in a bottle and records them in a book (Psalm 56:8). And your prayers are kept in a bowl and make a fragrant incense that God loves to smell (Revelation 5:8). God even writes our names on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). God will take what seems like a tragedy and turn it into something good (Romans 8:28). Even when we die, God cares (Psalm 116:15). God loves you and wants to connect with you. That’s why He came, the reason for Christmas. God never forgets you. He’s always with you. He always hears you. And He always answers, whether it is yes, no, or not yet! There are many things we don’t understand, and maybe what you’re asking about is a lot bigger and has a lot more impact than you can imagine. Keep believing, trusting, waiting, and praying until the answer comes. And however long it takes to get the answer, God will make it worth your while! 😉