“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” (Luke 1:68-71, NRSV)
Only the gospel writer Luke names the parents of John the Baptist and tells the story of John’s birth. Zechariah and Elizabeth were descendants of Aaron, the priestly tribe of the Israelites, and they lived lives of devotion and strict adherence to the Law. It’s possible their loyalty to God created some disappointment because they longed for a child their entire lives. Their dream evaporated steadily with each passing year until they found themselves of old age. I’m not saying their fidelity should have ensured them the birth of a child because faithfulness has its own rewards; however, when they saw other less devout people having children, it may have felt like their devotion was unnoticed by God.
Every day two priests were chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary, one in the morning and another in the evening. They maintained the burning incense at the front of the Holy of Holies. On one occasion, Zechariah’s lot fell, and he went in where he saw the angel Gabriel standing on the altar of incense. In the realm of “nothing is impossible for God,” the angel announced that Elizabeth would bear a son and Zechariah should name him John. Then, his son, John, will prepare the way for the Lord’s Messiah to come by calling people to repentance so that their hearts can receive the coming Savior.
As we can imagine, Zechariah was puzzled by Gabriel’s announcement because both he and Elizabeth were well beyond the typical ages for producing children. He asked Gabriel how this unusual situation would come about, to which the angel replied that God sent him to bring this good news and he would have thought Zechariah would be thrilled to hear it! I’m not sure that’s what Gabriel said precisely, but it seems likely. Since he responded with disbelief, an uncharacteristic response from a godly priest, Zechariah would be unable to speak until Gabriel’s pronouncement came to be.
While I believe this episode with the angel and Zechariah happened, I also think that Zechariah metaphorically represents Israel, who prayed for centuries for God to send the Messiah. Yet, when Israel’s salvation came in Jesus Christ, many disbelieved and missed out on experiencing the transformation of a lifetime. I’m glad God stuck with Zechariah and Elizabeth despite Zechariah’s doubt, for we are all beneficiaries of God’s graciousness through John and Jesus.
What have you been praying for that you may have given up hope on receiving? Zechariah and Elizabeth longed for a child and had all but given up on their dream. Yet God allowed them to be a part of preparing a way for the salvation of humankind. I think now they would say it was worth the wait! In this season of Advent, renew your prayers for your deepest longings, but trust that God will deliver what is best for you and his kingdom.