It was Advent 1987. I was with friends and we arrived a few minutes late for church that evening. The singing had begun – in fact I could hear it as I approached the church. I noticed my body began to feel warm and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I recognised the song as I entered the building so I opened my mouth to sing and immediately found I was singing in an unlearned language. It was a delightful surprise!
This was the gift of tongues. I knew it. I spent the whole evening expressing this new-found prayer and praise language, enjoying giving devotion to a Christ Iike I’d never done before. The Spirit had come and I couldn’t stop praising.
At the first Advent, Zechariah had a similar experience. He was called and chosen by God yet found it hard to believe and as a result lost his ability to speak (Lk 1:22). Despite being old, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth miraculously became parents to a baby boy. Naming day then came. The family wanted to call the baby ‘Zechariah’ after his father, but Zechariah stepped in making it clear by writing that he was to be called by the name the angel told him to give the boy – ‘John’. What then happened is fascinating! Immediately the Holy Spirit fell upon Zechariah and his speech impediment was healed! Luke describes it using these words:
‘Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbours were filled with awe.’ (Lk 1:64-65).
Look at the carefully chosen words Luke uses here: ‘mouth’, ‘tongue’, ‘free’, ‘speak’, ‘praise’, ‘awe’. These are very similar words used to describe what happened to lots of disciples about 33 years later on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit came and they began to ‘speak‘ in ‘tongues’ (Acts 2:4) and people asked what was happening, hearing a people who couldn’t stop praising God with mouths set free. And a result ‘everyone was filled with awe’ (Acts 2:43). The similarity of words is intentional. It was Pentecost before Pentecost! Pentecost at Advent!!
I’m not necessarily suggesting here that Zechariah spoke in tongues (although he might!) I’m also not wanting to downplay the experiential or theological significance of what later happened on the Day of Pentecost when the church was birthed as a praising, celebrating church, impacting those around them. I’m simply saying that Zechariah praised God like never before and as a result others were affected. You see, that’s what happens. When the Spirit comes, you can’t stop praising.
All this reminds us that we don’t have to wait until we celebrate Pentecost in May to experience the Holy Spirit! He longs to come to you now – in the season on Advent – like he did to Zechariah. As you are open to his presence and, like Zechariah, are obedient to his leading and guidance (Lk 1:63) then your tongue too can be ‘set free’ to praise the Lord like never before. And this will positively effect others. It just will. Because when the Spirit comes, you can’t stop praising.
Are you ready for an Advent Pentecost?
ACTION: Think about your experience of the Holy Spirit. Do you sometimes limit him, thinking he will only touch others, rather than you? Or only work in a certain way at a certain time or place or season? Does the possibility of an Advent Pentecost surprise you? If so, write down in your Notebook: ‘Lord, change my thinking’. God loves to do that (Romans 12:2)!
PRAY: Have the ancient prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’ as a regular prayer on your lips today and in these coming days. Allow the Lord to bring to mind others you could pray such a prayer for, and cover them in prayer using those simple words. Finally pray for the Spirit to come to you today. Then begin to praise God.