From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
Prayer has a power we will never be able to understand. We may never know how the prayers of others may have impacted our lives, or how our own prayers of intercession affect other people. When Zechariah enters the sanctuary, behind him is a community praying. Everyone understands the gravity and intensity of what it meant for the priest to enter God’s presence. Praying for one another can be a beautiful way of acknowledging the demands, perseverance, and vulnerability that authentic faith requires of us. The words we offer on behalf of one another testify to our belief that God has indeed created us as a body and as a priesthood of believers whose actions matter to God.
Zechariah approaches the Temple supported by a community of believers. In an unavoidable way he faces his task alone, coming before God alone. But in powerful and mystery-filled ways the prayers of the people outside the temple support Zechariah. Yes, this was Zechariah’s duty and the duty of the community, but we are all made dutiful to one another as siblings in the Kingdom of God. A duty can also be a privilege when enacted with love. Who knows how else this believing community was dutiful to Zechariah and to Elizabeth? What else did Zechariah share with those who he knew to be people of God? Who else might have been praying alongside Zechariah and Elizabeth regarding their desire for children? Sometimes when we find ourselves too burdened by the extent of our longings, too prayed out, or too exhausted with coming before God, we can look to others to bear our burdens prayerfully until we regain our own strength of spirit. A believing community shoulders hope when circumstances seem hopeless. A believing community speaks boldly into despair and longing and suggests that things do not have to remain as they are in the presence of a holy, imaginative God.
During Advent, as we wait for the fullness of God’s promises in Christ Jesus, we are invited in humility and gentleness of spirit to whisper our longings to one another and to elicit a new depth of sharing with one another. Intercession is both a duty and a privilege, but we can only intercede when we learn to trust others with our unique yearnings. Naming the ache of our yearnings is indeed faithful. It opens wide the gift of receiving and embracing the prayers of others. It challenges us to new ways of loving one another as we learn to listen to the vulnerabilities of others and to graciously bear one another’s burdens through prayer. May we begin to look around and discern with wisdom the people in our midst with whom we can share this Advent invitation. Who can help bear the weight of our longings, or whose longings can we help to bear, while still prayerfully hoping in the fullness of God’s promises of abundant life?
Christ, our Lord, you are our intercessor. You come before God in our place. You are the fullness of what it means to intercede for others. Help us reclaim the power and gift of intercession. Give us the faith to bring one another’s burdens before you. Amen.