Have you ever reacted in a curious and surprising way, embarrassing yourself? Laughing out loud at an inappropriate moment, for example. It’s not that it’s funny — usually far from it. At times, I think my brain has overloaded and defaulted to foolishness.
That’s why I have empathy for Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25). If only he’d kept his lips zipped for one more millisecond. He might have saved himself nine months of mortified muteness. If only.
At the time, Zechariah was attending to temple duties with the high honor of making the incense offering. He retrieved burning coals from the altar and placed them in a golden bowl. He positioned incense on top. He swung the bowl, filling the tabernacle with sweet aromas. Outside, a multitude prayed. Both offerings lifted heavenward as pleasing sacrifices.
Just then, the angel, Gabriel, showed up. Consider the odds of two once-in-a-lifetime occurrences coinciding. Seriously, this was sorting out to be a Really.Big.Day.
The mighty messenger was on a mission, direct from God. Zech shook in fear at the sight. Had he messed up the offering protocol? Could the angel read his mind or know his deepest thoughts? Would he strike him dead?
With relief, Zech learned Gabe’s intentions were benevolent. He brought good news and an answer to prayer. Zech and Elizabeth would soon have a son! Their boy had a key role to play in God’s plan.
After hundreds of years of darkness, here was a blazingly bright ray of hope. Zech was the very first to learn of it and of his own role. He’d father the prophet who would herald the Messiah! Yet he stammered, looking for a sign to believe. Gabriel was not amused.
Have you ever lost hope for your prayer to be answered? Given up on a deep-seated desire? Felt your faith waver and falter? Me, too. Friend, I believe Zechariah could relate.
Zech and his wife were righteous Jews. They’d always wanted children. Yet as other families flourished, they’d withered and wizened. How many times had he prayed for a son — and she for an end to her reproach? Surely we can understand if faith for a child had thinned along with their graying hair.
By the time this good news reached his old ears they were far beyond prime, well stricken in years (KJV). Imagine them with achey joints and stiff limbs, stooping a bit. Perhaps his eyes were clouding with cataracts. Maybe she limped with a bad hip.
So, no. Zech didn’t celebrate pending parentage with the angel. He practically scoffed. What? A baby? Me and my old lady? Good one, Gabe. (SS version ;=)
Zech’s response suggests that somewhere along the way his prayer for a son had become habitual. He’d all but given up. How else might we explain this scene? Zech stood face to face with a mighty messenger of God at the single-best moment of his life and questioned the angel’s integrity!
This audacious moment points to a hidden truth in this story, friend. Zech’s prayers for a child had become dry, like his wife’s womb. His faith for this deepest desire had fizzled. It didn’t matter. When God determined it was time to move, He would answer Zech’s prayer anyway. His sovereign will trumps everything (Esther 4:14). What a relief — for all of us.
Fast forward nine months (Luke 1:57-79). Indeed, it all came to pass as the angel foretold. Elizabeth bore a son. Zechariah was flush with joy and gladness. Word spread across the countryside and many rejoiced with them. Most remarkably, Zech’s heart burned hot for God. This was 180-degree turn from his moment of truth in the temple. Rather like the transformation of the disciples’ after Jesus’s resurrection, right? He believed — oh, how he believed!
Freshly filled with the Holy Spirit, Zech’s song of praise is a beautiful testimony to the work of God through the ages. He blesses the God of Israel and proclaims salvation through the line of King David. He speaks over his newborn who will prepare the way for the Messiah. His praise-song culminates in a crescendo that breaks like the dawn.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79 MSG
My spirit lifts in celebration of the Dayspring (KJV). Darkness forced to retreat. Death defeated. True peace — reconciliation between Creator and created — possible because of this long-awaited One. God’s great compassion — the tender, heartfelt mercies of which Zech speaks — is evident in the gift of His Son
Let hope arise, my friend! We need not wander in the darkness. God’s purposes will prevail. He who got this party started (and created such marvelous light) will see us through to completion (Philippians 1:6). Let us follow, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.