Summary: A first-person narrative of Zechariah's experience before the angel Gabriel.
I resent a little your pastor’s description of me in the bulletin. “Zechariah the Silent”? It’s true, for nine months I was unable to croak out a single “Shalom!” to those I passed on the street. But ever since God opened my mouth again I have not stopped praising him for what he did for me…and for you. I’m here to tell you about that in my Advent Admissions. May they be a blessing on your Advent preparations.
But who am I exactly? I was the father of John the baptizer. He was the one who prepared the way for the coming of our Savior, Jesus. I was also an active priest who regularly served in the temple in Jerusalem. Unlike many of my fellow priests, I actually believed in what I was doing. I was careful not to just go through the motions of worship as if merely chopping up an animal and throwing it on the altar earned God’s favor. No, I understood that those animal sacrifices were an expression of God’s favor. They illustrated how God willingly accepted a substitute to be punished for our sins. I guess that’s a little bit like your scientists today conducting medical tests on animals for the benefit of humans. But oh, how my wife Elizabeth and I longed for the day when God would send the real substitute for our sins. This Messiah had been promised thousands of years earlier.
There was something else that my wife and I longed for: children. In our day and age if you didn’t have children, people suspected that God was punishing you for some sin. Elizabeth and I knew that we were indeed sinners but the Evangelist Luke himself wrote about us that we were “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and regulations blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). He described us the way Moses had described Noah from the Old Testament. That’s quite an honor!
So why didn’t God answer our prayers for a child? There were times when we thought that God owed us for being such faithful believers. But who were we kidding? God doesn’t owe sinners anything. Is that perhaps a truth you need to be reminded of this morning? Have you been pouring your heart out to God for something you think you really need – a companion, a better job, more energy, less pain, a house of your own – but it seems as if you might as well be speaking to a brick wall because God hasn’t answered? Oh but he has. So far the answer has been “no.” Don’t give up. Keep praying and keep entrusting yourself to a God who knows you better than you know yourself. If God doesn’t give you what you want, it’s because he’s given what you need right now.
Should God answer your prayer with a “yes,” don’t be surprised as I was. Let me tell you more about that. It happened when I was in the temple offering incense. The purpose of this was to illustrate how all the prayers of the faithful rose to God, like the smoke of incense wafting up and up. While the priest offered incense, the faithful would offer their prayers outside the temple. I of course added my own petitions. I prayed for the well-being of our people. I prayed that God would turn many hearts back to him. And yes, out of habit, I prayed that God would grant Elizabeth and me a child. And then suddenly an angel appeared, and I think my heart stopped for a couple of seconds I was so scared! But he said: “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” (Luke 1:13-17).
Wow! Not only was God going to give us a child, that child would be God’s forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah and to turn hearts back to him. More than one of my requests was being answered with a “yes”! You would think a mature believer like me would high-five the angel before tearing out of the temple to share the good news with everyone. I’m ashamed to say that’s not how it played out. Instead I doubted. I mean had the angel forgotten that my wife was not only sterile but also past the age of child-bearing? When I expressed these facts, Gabriel, as the angel was called, solemnly announced: “…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” (Luke 1:20).