Imagine yourself to be Zechariah, the priest who is going to meet with the Lord in the temple on behalf of the people. He is offering prayers of worship and repentance when he has a startling encounter with an angel of the Lord. Fill in the scene and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as you hear the angel’s message spoken to you…
Read the Scripture passage
Luke 1:11-24 The Voice (VOICE)
11 Suddenly Zacharias realized he was not alone: a messenger of the Lord was there with him. The messenger stood just to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was shocked and afraid, 13 but the messenger reassured him.
Messenger: Zacharias, calm down! Don’t be afraid!
Zacharias is a priest working in the temple, but priests don’t normally hear from God. Those who hear from God are called prophets, not priests. One becomes a priest by being born in a priestly family line. Prophets, on the other hand, arise unpredictably and have no special credentials except the message they carry. So Zacharias has no reason to believe his duties will be interrupted in this way. Often in the biblical story, when people receive a message from God—after getting over the initial shock—they start asking questions. They push back; they doubt.
Messenger: Zacharias, your prayers have been heard. Your wife is going to have a son, and you will name him John. 14 He will bring you great joy and happiness—and many will share your joy at John’s birth.
15 This son of yours will be a great man in God’s sight. He will not drink alcohol in any form;[a] instead of alcoholic spirits, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is in his mother’s womb. 16 Here is his mission: he will turn many of the children of Israel around to follow the path to the Lord their God. 17 Do you remember the prophecy about someone to come in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah; someone who will turn the hearts of the parents back to their children;[b] someone who will turn the hearts of the disobedient to the mind-set of the just and good? Your son is the one who will fulfill this prophecy: he will be the Lord’s forerunner, the one who will prepare the people and make them ready for God.
Zacharias: 18 How can I be sure of what you’re telling me? I am an old man, and my wife is far past the normal age for women to bear children. This is hard to believe!
Messenger (sternly): 19 I am Gabriel, the messenger who inhabits God’s presence. I was sent here to talk with you and bring you this good news. 20 Because you didn’t believe my message, you will not be able to talk—not another word—until you experience the fulfillment of my words.
21 Meanwhile the crowd at the temple wondered why Zacharias hadn’t come out of the sanctuary yet. It wasn’t normal for the priest to be delayed so long. 22 When at last he came out, he was making signs with his hands to give the blessing, but he couldn’t speak. They realized he had seen some sort of vision. 23 When his time on duty at the temple came to an end, he went back home to his wife. 24 Shortly after his return, Elizabeth became pregnant. She avoided public contact for the next five months.
Luke 1:57-64 The Voice (VOICE)
57 When the time was right, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. 58 News about the Lord’s special kindness to her had spread through her extended family and the community. Everyone shared her joy, for after all these years of infertility, she had a son! 59 As was customary, eight days after the baby’s birth the time came for his circumcision and naming. Everyone assumed he would be named Zacharias, like his father.
Elizabeth (disagreeing): 60 No. We will name him John.
Her Relatives (protesting): 61 That name is found nowhere in your family.
62 They turned to Zacharias and asked him what he wanted the baby’s name to be.
63 He motioned for a tablet, and he wrote, “His name is John.” Everyone was shocked by this breach of family custom. 64 They were even more surprised when, at that moment, Zacharias was able to talk again, and he shouted out praises to God.
“Perhaps, as the years go by, our attempts to follow the path of God, however we envision it, may become like Zechariah’s — refined but also reduced to the faithful fulfilment of a set of obligations and the leading of what might pass as a good life. Such faithfulness is never to be despised. It can be the seedbed of God’s kingdom. Unfortunately, it can all too easily turn into a comfort zone. We feel so settled in our holy niche that we stop even expecting God to intervene in our lives. We carry on ‘burning our incense’. We keep on tending that flickering little fire within us that still burns with a love for God. But we don’t expect to wake up one morning and discover that the flames are suddenly leaping out of control. Neither did Zechariah!” (Margaret Silf)
In what areas of your life have you been waiting upon God with longterm prayers for intervention or guidance? How would you respond if these were suddenly and dramatically answered? How would you cope with such a miraculous, divine encounter?
Margaret Silf suggests further that “just as the infant John would need nine month’s gestation before coming to birth, so Zechariah is also given a time of gestation in which his response can grow and ripen into the whole-hearted ‘yes!’ expressed in the moment when he writes on the tablet, ‘his name is John’.”
Is this a time of gestation in your life where you must quietly nurture what is sacred within you, or is it a time to take risks and move? Honestly express to God the extent to which you are willing to trust his intention for you. What next steps does God seem to be asking you to take? Ask for God’s wisdom and discernment.
O Holy child of Bethlehem
Descend on us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
Come, thou long expectant Jesus
Born to set they people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
The Entire 2017 Reflective Series: