By John A. Huffman, Jr.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Themes: Advent, Aging
Text: Luke 1:5-25;
Let me introduce to you Zechariah and Elizabeth, two somewhat obscure but very important people in the Advent narrative. Zechariah and Elizabeth were the father and mother of John the Baptist. But that's the end, not the beginning of the story.
Zechariah, which literally means "whom God remembered," was a Jewish village priest. His wife Elizabeth, which means "God is my oath," came from a priestly family whose lineage went all the way back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were devout and scrupulous in the observance of the Old Testament Law. They were faithful followers of the Lord.
However, they had a heartbreaking problem. They were now becoming quite elderly, and they had no children. This fact had brought them much pain. They had prayed for a child for years. That child had never come.
The 24 families of the sons of Aaron were responsible in rotation for service in the temple at Jerusalem. Zechariah traveled from his village, not too far from Jerusalem, to take his turn serving as a priest. On this particular occasion, it was his turn to serve in front of the Most Holy Place. Zechariah had the great privilege of entering the sanctuary to burn incense while the congregation remained outside in prayer.
The strangest thing happened. The Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. Zechariah was startled. Fear gripped him. The angel said to him:
"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. 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 must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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" (
Zechariah was stunned. He didn't quite know what to say. Initially, he could not believe this. He asked the angel for a sign. Gabriel gave him a sign — because of Zechariah's disbelief, the angel declared that Zechariah would be silent and not be able to speak until this prophesy concerning the birth of Elizabeth and Zechariah's son, John the Baptist, would be fulfilled.
The people outside couldn't figure out why Zechariah was spending so much time in the temple. When he finally emerged, he could not speak to them. He tried to communicate with sign language. It didn't work.