Summary: The future is only empty of hope if we leave the grace of God out of the picture. Let me learn from Mary to begin each day by saying, “Yes, Lord.”
Good morning. My name is Elizabeth, and I am the wife of Zechariah ben Abijah, who is a priest at the temple in Jerusalem. That’s not his full-time job, of course, he goes up for a week twice a year to take his turn in the rotation. It’s ordinarily pretty routine - although a great honor, of course, don’t get me wrong - but when he came back after the last time my husband couldn’t speak a word. That’s why I’m doing something as improper as to come speak to strangers in public in my condition - and Gentiles at that! - And besides, there are some things I was the only witness to.
It happened like this. As you can see, I’m a little old to be pregnant - and for the first time, too! And so of course Zechariah and I had long ago given up any expectation of having any children. I had nieces and nephews and cousins, of course, thanks be to the Holy One, but it’s not the same. But life is what it is, I thought, and so I made the best of things. After all, there are always mothers and children who can use the advice and help of an older woman.
But I kept remembering Sarah, and Hannah, and how they had prayed to God and he had given them a son. And Rebekah and Rachel, too, they didn’t conceive until they were almost past the age of child-bearing. And I did pray, and I tried to believe, and I waited. And then I told myself that we were past the age of miracles, after all, it had been almost 400 years since the Holy One, blessed be his name, had sent a prophet to Israel. And so I waited, each year with less and less hope, until I stopped waiting. My husband Zechariah was a good man, but he was no Abraham. God had never spoken to him, or made him a promise, or called him out of his place of birth to a larger role in history than he had been born to. So why should I ask for a miracle?
And so our days went by, and we did our best to serve faithfully where God had placed us, in the temple, in the village, in the synagogue, in the family. Until six months ago, when Zechariah came home from Jerusalem. And he couldn’t talk.
He’s never been a demonstrative man, and so when he came bursting through the gate into the courtyard where I was preparing the evening meal I was alarmed. He was gesturing wildly and pointing at his mouth and finally disappeared into the inner room and came back with a writing tablet. He
scribbled something on it and shoved it under my nose. It said, “We’re going
to have a baby!”
I stared at him. What had he been up to in Jerusalem? Was it his, or some orphan he had come across? My face felt numb. Could I take another woman’s child into my home? What about the mother? What was he trying to tell me? I looked up at him and saw him shaking his head violently. He grabbed the tablet back, wrote on it again. And held it so I could see. “NO!” It said. “Ours!” And he pointed at my belly. He wrote again. “God said.” And then “Angel.”
I started to laugh, and then to cry and threw my arms around him. Maybe he was crazy, but at least he was still the husband I had known and trusted for so long.
As it turned out, my husband wasn’t crazy after all. I finally got it through my head that when he was serving in the temple, offering up the incense while the people prayed outside, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. His first thought was that he had made some terrible mistake in the offering, and he fell flat on his face in fear. But Gabriel spoke soothingly to him, saying "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” “What do you mean, John?” I asked, “We’ve never used that name in this family.” “God said to,” wrote Zechariah. “Remember it means ‘God has been gracious,’ and that’s what Gabriel explained to me.
“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. . . He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”