Reverently, Zechariah pulled on his priestly robes. His name, chosen by lot, meant today he could enter the temple and light the incense. An honor. Because there were 80,000 priests, not every priest got to enter the holy place, but today Zechariah could. His heart swelled with joy at the honor. Serving God, offering the sacrificial incense, the aroma that pleased God so He bestowed forgiveness on His people.
Before he left, Zechariah gently kissed his wife, Elizabeth, on the cheek. Looking at this woman he loved, Zechariah felt the familiar sadness. He couldn’t stop the old question, “Why, God? Why no child? This beautiful woman who loves You suffers shame. People look at us and whisper. ‘Surely, God never blessed them with a child because of their sin.’ But You know, God, You know we serve You with our whole hearts.”
Zechariah sighed. Asking those questions didn’t help; the hope for children died as Elizabeth grew too old. They would never have children now.
Shaking off the sadness that threatened the holiness of the day, Zechariah entered the temple alone. While he fulfilled the law, the people waited outside, praying.
More questions filled Zechariah’s mind. “How long, God, will Israel suffer as captives? When will you free us? These Roman soldiers, always threatening. Herod, that murderer, who cares for nothing but himself. How much longer?”
As Zechariah entered the temple, his questions stopped. This sacred duty required his full attention. After all, he’d never been in this part of the temple before. And if he did something wrong, dishonored God in some way, his life could end right then and there.
Carefully, Zechariah carried the golden bowl of coals to the altar, laid the incense on top.
And saw an angel.
Zechariah’s stomach dropped. Fear gripped his heart and mind.
The angel spoke, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for 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 before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:13-17)
Zechariah stood, his mouth open in disbelief. This angel talked nonsense. Didn’t he realize the ridiculousness of what he said? Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence f God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And 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 appointed hour.” (Luke 1:19-21)
The people praying outside saw the fragrant cloud of incense. “Where is Zechariah?” they wondered. “No other priest ever stays in the temple this long? Has God judged him at last?”
Zechariah walked out into the crowd in a daze. He heard the questions the crowd asked but couldn’t answer. Just as the angel Gabriel said, Zechariah couldn’t speak.
Gabriel’s visit changed his life forever.
Not only would Zechariah and Elizabeth have the son they longed for, this son would break God’s 400-year silence. Their son would be God’s messenger, preparing His people for the long-awaited Messiah.
For nine months, Zechariah remained silent. He shared with Elizabeth the best he could, with signs and writing in the dirt. The miracle unfolded before his eyes.
The whole town celebrated with Zechariah and Elizabeth. On the day of the baby’s circumcision, the people assumed his name was Zechariah, like his father.
Elizabeth announced, “No! He is to be named John.” (Luke 1:60)
The crown didn’t understand. Why John? No one in the family was named John. Elizabeth must be wrong. They asked Zechariah. On the tablet they brought him, Zechariah wrote, “His name is John.”
With those words, Zechariah’s voice returned. He praised God. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesied,
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us–
to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)
How easy it is to not believe God. To question His way, so different than what we expect. But always, He shines His light, guiding our feet into the path of peace. Offering hope in the deepest darkness.
God rescues us. He enables us to serve Him without fear. Through His tender mercy, He gives the gift of salvation, forgiving our sin, so we stand in His righteousness.
What a glorious gift.
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