Luke 1 continued:
5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
If the God of Israel has a pattern, it is in the opening of wombs. The story of God’s people is the story of fertility, particularly among those seemingly infertile. The births of John and Jesus will coincide with the birth of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The above verses can’t help but bring to mind the stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel and others.
8Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
God approaches Zechariah at the time when Zechariah was most focused on God. It makes me wonder if perhaps God had tried more subtle approaches to reach this man before this one.
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13
Angels always seem to frighten people. I think that a true encounter with an angel would be so terrifying that it could never be doubted. They spend most of their time with us telling us not to be afraid of them.
But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
We find the interesting fact here that Zechariah has been praying for children, even though it was all but impossible. God often gives us desires that lead to faith. This is what it may mean to “ask for faith.” He is gracious enough to give us the desires for things (that we too often dismiss as selfishness) which lead us to prayer and hope and expectancy: faith. All of this according to his redemptive will.
Name him John, which means “God is gracious.” Jesus will follow, “God saves.” Grace comes before salvation. It seems as though John is to take the Jewish Nazirite vow for his life, which includes no grapes/wine, no touching dead bodies and no hair cutting. John’s life mission is here, “to go on before the Lord…to turn hearts…to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Everything about this blessing points to the tradition of the Hebrew Prophet…a prophet named “Grace.”
It is interesting that John comes to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and not visa versa. The Father’s heart has turned to his children…he desires a family, “a people” here. As his heart turns to us, our hearts turn to our children.
18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
Even though he has seen this miracle and has been praying for children, like us, he doubts.
19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
The deep theological answer to why? “Because I am God’s messenger and I say so.” Now shut up and think about what you just said. Zechariah goes into verbal “time out” for nine months.
21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."
Elizabeth follows in the Old Testaments heroines’ footsteps by being prompted to worship. She has no idea that there is so much more than just “her disgrace” on the table.