reflections on Luke 1:5-25
The story has been handed down faithfully, investigated in detail, and written carefully. The story of God sending Jesus to walk among people. The story of God partnering with people and gifting people that there might again be oneness between God and humankind, and oneness between human beings. And the story begins with some strange unexpected twists.
Zechariah has been trained to fulfill his priestly duties. He served in the priestly order of Abijah. He married a woman who was from the priestly line of Aaron. Finally Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of God and burn the incense. He had dreamed of this day, after all, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was a sense of holy anticipation of the moment when he would burn the incense before God.
Zechariah was chosen by lot that day, but there were plenty of days when he didn’t feel very “chosen. ” While Zechariah and Elizabeth were an honorable couple with a clear conscience who were careful to obey God, they had no children. They dreamed of having children. They prayed for God to give them children. But the dream was dying, the prayers unanswered, and they found themselves living in a desert of barrenness.
Maybe the years of disappointed waiting explain what happened that chosen day in the temple. Maybe hearing the judgmental whispers of people around town had taken their toll. As the incense burned and the crowd outside prayed, Zechariah was startled by an angel who appeared just to the right of the incense altar.
This angel, who seems to be well-acquainted with his life situation, assures him his prayers have been heard. The angel knows them by name and actually says “Zechariah” and “Elizabeth.” The angel introduces himself by name. Gabriel brings a message from God, a joyful message about Elizabeth giving birth to a son who will be great in the sight of God. Gabriel reveals the son’s name is to be “John.” Gabriel reveals the son’s mission is to turn the hearts of the people back to God and to soften the hearts of parents to children. God wants to be one with people. God wants people to be one with each other. God is going to work in, through, and with Zechariah’s son to bring about this oneness. John will prepare people for God. Even skeptics will be transformed.
Zechariah’s response was not what I was expecting. “You really expect me to believe this stuff about a son? We have been trying for years. Elizabeth and I are just too old for this.”
Here is an honorable person with a clear conscience who has carefully obeyed God. Here is a priest in service to God who has a supernatural encounter in the one time and place you would most expect him to have one. Here is a man who has, with his wife, experienced disappointment and disgrace for years. And here is a man who when encountered by God’s messenger in God’s temple with God’s message of good news responds with unbelief. And so Gabriel tells Zechariah he will not be able to speak until after the baby is born.
Zechariah was in the sanctuary longer than most priests. In fact, the people gathered to pray outside the temple were beginning to wonder what was taking so long. When he emerged people saw his inability to speak and his gestures and concluded he must have seen a vision.
It wan’t long before Elizabeth was celebrating her pregnancy, “God is kind! God has done this! God has taken away my disgrace!” While Elizabeth was giving voice to her praise, Zechariah was still searching for words.
You are worthy to be praised–
Your desire to be one with people is pure love.
Your desire for people to be one is heaven on earth.
Thank You for listening to me–
When I do not understand.
When I cry out to You in pain and disgrace.
Thank You for loving me–
When I lose heart.
When I am surprised by Your presence.
Even when I don’t believe.
Thank You for Jesus–
For the good news of Your love.
For the death, burial, and resurrection.
For the body of Christ who lives today.
I find myself startled.
I find myself searching for words.
In Jesus’ name,