Last week, we shared a post introducing our new Advent course, Taste & See, and have encouraged you to go deeper this Advent by immersing yourself in the biblical narrative in a first-hand way. If you missed that post, go back and read it here. Then try out your imaginative skills with the meditation below.
Practice Imagination: Experiencing the Blessing of Zechariah and Elizabeth
Now is your chance to try out your imaginative skills using the biblical text. You can take these tactics and apply them to any portion of the Advent narrative as you walk through the season, and better yet, join us for a community experience of the Advent narrative.
First Sunday of Advent: Zechariah’s Surprise in the Temple (Luke 1:5-25)
Pray this opening prayer:
Let us release the cares of our day,
and open our eyes to the wonder of God.
With an attitude of empathy to people of another time,
let us open our hearts and minds to God.
Let us prepare to experience God’s Word to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Entering the Story
Read the scripture passage silently once through. Then engage the cues below, which provide descriptive context for the narrative.
BIBLICAL CUE: An Angel’s Appearance
In this passage we aren’t told what Gabriel looked like, but elsewhere angels usually appeared clothed in white. Angels were so dazzling in appearance that they terrified those who saw them. Hence, they often began their message with the words “Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:2-5).
HISTORICAL CUE: Altar of Incense
Zechariah’s eyes were probably already overwhelmed by the altar. If this altar was like the one in Solomon’s Temple, it was built of wood and measured 18 by 18 by 36 inches. And it had horns! The altar’s top and sides were overlaid with gold, and it was surrounded by a crown or rim of gold. For ease of transport, it had golden rings.
SENSORY CUE: Smell of Incense
Incense mentioned in tabernacle or temple worship is generally “sweet incense,” compounded in specific amounts with perfumes, pure frankincense, and various other ingredients (Exod. 30:34-36). Frankincense emits a fragrance of pine and lemon combined with a dry, woody aroma.
PICTURING CUE: Talking with Your Hands
How would you describe having seen and angel and being given a message if you could use only your hands and arms? Consider what it was like for an esteemed priest to do what might have looked to us moderns like a game of charades.
Now, read the passage again, this time aloud. Try to picture Zechariah, or even put yourself in his place, smelling the incense, seeing what he saw and feeling what he might have felt. Consider the questions below:
1. What feelings might Zechariah have had about being chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense? Perhaps thrilled? Or terrified?
2. What thoughts or feelings or past experiences might have prompted Zechariah to ask, “How will I know that this is so?” (v. 18)
3. What feelings might Zechariah have experienced when he kept motioning to the others and remained unable to speak (v. 22)? One commentator surmises that Zechariah was in a “wordless daze of joy.” What do you think? How would those emotions blend with the emotions he probably had in seeing a vision?
4. What word, phrase, scene, or image emerges from the scripture and stays with me?
Finally, consider whether God is offering an invitation to you in this passage. Sit quietly for a few minutes asking God what he may be wishing you to know, understand, feel or even do. Spend a few moments asking God questions. Then spend a few moments resting in God’s presence.
Grant us wisdom and courage this week:
to be open to your surprises, O God;
to taste and see your presence in new ways;
to trust that you will do good and joyful things in our lives and in the world.
This material was adapted from Taste & See: Experiencing the Stories of Advent and Christmas, by Jan Johnson.
Jan Johnson is a writer, speaker, and spiritual director who holds degrees in Christian education and spirituality. She is the author of seventeen books including Enjoying the Presence of God, When the Soul Listens, Savoring God’s Word, and many magazine articles. She is also a frequent retreat and conference speaker. For more information about her writings and speaking engagements see janjohnson.org/.
Post Image: The Visitation, located at St. Sophia of Kyiv