There’s an empty space in my Christmas tree.
It’s not a cute, minimalist kind of empty space. It’s the kind of space that yawns at me with its undecorated nakedness.
I keep it empty though, because emptiness is what Christmas is all about.
Surprised by that last statement? I was too when the Lord prompted me to embrace “empty Christmas”.
Then I read Luke 1 this week. There’s a theme of emptiness in this chapter… and it is powerful!
Elizabeth and Zechariah both endure a season of emptiness in their story: Elizabeth in her womb and Zechariah in his mouth:
”And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years…
…But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”“Luke 1:6-7, 13, 18-20 ESV
I used to think that Zechariah was being punished for his audacious doubt. When it comes to my own experiences with emptiness, I assume the same is true—surely this is God’s reprimand for my lack of faith.
But what if silence is not about punishment but preparation?
For Liz and Zac in the 1st century, the spaces stayed empty for years and months, respectively. That time set the stage for each to participate in God’s kingdom work on a grand scale. And at the right time, God filled the empty spaces:
”Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her…
…And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God… And [he] was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…“Luke 1:57-58, 64, 67 ESV
God used their story to echo the experience of spiritual emptiness common to all humanity.
Like “Zechari-abeth” (I took the liberty of giving them a celebrity couple nickname), the world was familiar with waiting and silence. For 500 years, God had not spoken to His people. The gaping hole of spiritual darkness yawned for generations. Our spinning globe had become a void of longing.
Oh how God takes such delight in empty spaces!
At last, the time drew near.
- Into the barrenness of Elizabeth’s empty womb came the prophet of God.
- Into the silence of Zechariah’s empty voice came the prophecy of God.
- And into the failure of a world’s empty efforts came the promise of God.
His name is Jesus: Emmanuel—God with us.
So I leave the empty space on my tree, defying my Pinterest board. *This is good practice*, I remind myself as I ponder The Lord’s plan for my own empty spaces.
May I never be quick to fill them on my own. Who knows what miracle God has in store!