Summary: First-person narrative, preached in a series of narratives for Advent.

A Reason for Hope

Luke 1:5-25; 57-80

Shalom, good people. Give me a moment for my head to clear and I will tell you a glorious story. My name is Zechariah and I am a priest from the hill country of Judea. My wife, Elizabeth, is herself the daughter of a priest—and so I am doubly blessed. This is our story, but so much more.

You see, there are far too many priests in Judea for all practical purposes. I have been told that we now number about 20,000. We have been divided up into twenty-four sections. I serve in the eighth section of Abijah. Only during the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles do all of the priests serve at one time. The rest of the year, each of us serve in the Temple twice, for one week at a time. This time of service is the highlight of our lives.

With so many of us, the duties are assigned by lot. Every morning and evening sacrifice is to be made for the whole nation. Before the sacrifice of the male lamb, one of the most important tasks is given—the lighting of the incense in the holy place. To light the incense was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many of my brothers have never had the chance to light the incense—many never will. But on the day my story began—I was given the privilege: the greatest honor of my life (at the time), and the moment I had longed for and dreamed of.

Only one thing darkened my life at the time. My wife and I were childless. For years Elizabeth and I had tried to have children. We were never able to do so. In my culture, many believe that to be barren is a sign of reproach—a sign that God is angry with you. In our hearts, we believed this was not so. Elizabeth and I both loved our God with every ounce of our beings. We sought to serve him faithfully every day. Yet, in his sovereign wisdom, he did not see fit to allow us a child.

With only this one thing missing in my life, I entered the Sanctuary to perform my assigned task. Another priest had entered just before me to put live coals on the golden altar. I followed and sprinkled frankincense upon the coals so that the offering would be wrapped in an envelope of sweet-smelling incense. Then, I lay upon the ground, face down, in prayer for my people—as prescribed by our custom.

Suddenly, I was aware that I was not alone! “This cannot be,” I thought—law forbade anyone but myself to be in the Sanctuary at this holy moment. I was ready to protest, when I looked up and saw the most incredible creature standing next to the altar of incense.

I cannot describe the creature—but he filled my heart with awe and terror. “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. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 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 even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And 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.”

This was too much for me to take; I could barely make sense of it all. He had just given me a promise so powerful, so magnificent, that it was too hard to believe. I was to have a son—the one void in my personal life was going to be fulfilled! Not only that, my son was going to be used by God to bring the people of Israel back to the Lord. To my great shame, I couldn’t believe it then—and I told the creature so.

“How can this be?” I asked. “My wife and I are far too old.”

There was rebuke in the sound of his voice as he 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. 20 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 proper time.”

Suddenly—I could not speak—just as the angel had told me. I walked out of the Sanctuary to face an anxious crowd (I was inside far longer than normal). As I gestured wildly trying to let people know what had happened, many understood that I had received a message from God.

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