5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. 8 One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. 10 All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. 11 An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.
13 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. 16 He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers [or parents] back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”
19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. 20 Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”
“Because there were [an estimated 18,000] priests, special duties had to be assigned by lot…. This occasion was likely Zechariah’s only opportunity to perform this service during his lifetime.”* It seems likely that when Zechariah awoke that day, he already thought he’d remember the day for the rest of his life. Yet little did he know how true that would be! The angel’s message to the aged priest was clearly worded to remind him of the words of the prophet Malachi (cf. Malachi 3:1, 4:5).
- Had Zechariah and Elizabeth given up their hope for a child? The angel’s words in verse 13 (“Your prayers have been heard”) implied not. God’s messenger said Elizabeth would bear the child they’d prayed for all those years. But Zechariah found that “good news” (verse 19) almost too good to be true. Are you ever tempted to believe that, no matter what God may have done in the past, God would never actually affect your life? Do you see hope as naïve, even foolish, or as a solid foundation for facing whatever life brings you?
- We find this reaction several times in the Advent story: “When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear” (verse 12). Zechariah’s fear made it hard for him to find hope in the angel’s “good news” (verse 19). Yet the angel’s first words were, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah” (verse 13). “Don’t be afraid” is the most common command God and God’s messengers give in the Bible. This Advent season, in what part(s) of life do you most need to take in the message, “Do not be afraid”?
Lord God, you know how often doubt and fear tug at my heart. Send your message of hope and promise across my path, reminding me to trust and not to fear. Amen.
* HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 232061-232065). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Chris Abel is the Pastor of Students and Young Adults at Resurrection, and he describes himself as a "Pastor/Creative-type/Adventurer." A former atheist turned passionate follower of Christ, he completed his seminary education in Washington, DC. Before coming to Resurrection, Chris was a campus pastor near St. Louis, MO.