There’s an interesting back-story to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus that you don’t hear much of.
In a sense it began with the old priest Zechariah being chosen by lot to officiate in the temple. He stood there praying for the nation, for God’s chosen people; he would not have been praying for his personal needs. The assumption is often made that he was praying for a child, based on the fact that when an angel appeared, he – or it said, ‘Your prayers have been answered, Elizabeth with bear a son.’
Six months later and seventy miles away the same angel, Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary, Elizabeth’s cousin with a similar message: ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’
‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.’
‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age…’
Immediately the young Mary made the 70-mile trip through the mountains to tell her news to perhaps the only person in the world who would understand and appreciate its impact, and as soon as she entered the room where Elizabeth was reclining the unborn child in her womb leapt as he was filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the angel had said.
The barren woman and the virgin girl shared their stories, both unable to conceive and yet both carrying children of the promise. What the story tells us is the difference between small minded prayers for ourselves and prayers that are driven by the desire to find God’s way for us through the pathless wilderness that so often is our lives.
Small prayers are focused on our perceived needs, our wish lists, our foot-stamping demands that can do nothing more, indeed are expected to do nothing more than make our sad little lives a little less miserable.
If old Zechariah and Elizabeth had, in their old age, still been praying for a child to fill their little void, they would either have had one and have been a little more content, or they wouldn’t and they would have descended into lives characterized by disappointment, frustration, depression and perhaps envy.
But the prayer of Zechariah transcended all that and the result was that they got their baby, but they also got to play their part in arguably the greatest event in the history of the world, the birth of the Messiah.
Prayers that are focused on what we want are small prayers. Prayers that resonate with the heart of God are big prayers. Small prayers seek gratification, big prayers make history.
One is rooted in small minds that are preoccupied by a hunger for things that are of little value, the other originates in the very heart of God as he works out his will, his will for the broad sweep of humanity, yes, but his will for the individual too. And that includes you and me.
Have a happy Christmas.