Next in his biblical account of Jesus’ birth, Luke unravels the thrilling prophecy that mysteriously places Zechariah and Elizabeth at the forefront of the Christmas story…
As Zechariah performed his priestly duties, he entered the temple of the Lord to burn the incense offering while multitudes of people remained outside in prayer. You see, under the Old Covenant no one but the priests could go before the altar of incense, which was located in front of the Most Holy Place. Therefore, when Zechariah saw an angel standing before the altar of incense he could not have imagined what was about to happen.
Zechariah, filled with fear, focused on the vision.
Catching his breath, he listened as the angel of the Lord spoke, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John” (Luke 1:13 New American Standard Bible NASB). The words of the angel echoed through Zechariah’s mind, for he had no idea how this could be.
The angel of the Lord continued, “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:14-15 NASB). When Zechariah heard the angel say, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb,” he was speechless.
I have tried to imagine how this type of epiphany would have affected me, and I think I would have been speechless also. Furthermore, Zechariah must have been thinking about how Elizabeth would react to his telling her of the phenomenon he encountered at the temple. Had it really happened? How would he approach her with such a ludicrous story?
Unbelief filtered through his mind as he questioned the angel, “How will I know this for certain?” (vs. 18). The angel of the Lord, angered by Zechariah’s unbelief reminded him that he was standing in the presence of God, and that God sent him to foretell the birth of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son.
Unbelief. How often does unbelief filter through our minds?
Zechariah would suffer consequences for his unbelief, “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time” (vs. 20).
Oh, my… now he knew he would be “telling” Elizabeth about his vision without speaking.
Nevertheless, God’s plans went forward. Elizabeth became pregnant, and “she kept herself in seclusion for five months” (vs. 24). I find this to be quite interesting. After all her years of trying to become pregnant, Elizabeth chose to stay at home. I think I would have been running from house to house telling of my good fortune, wouldn’t you?
I admire Elizabeth’s response to her good fortune, because in her choice to stay in seclusion, she had ample time to reflect on God’s goodness, thinking to herself, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men” (vs. 25).
As I think about God’s favor on Elizabeth, I cannot end this post without remembering that through Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their family, God looked with favor upon all of humanity.
That is what the Christmas story is all about, isn’t it?