You may have more in common with Zechariah than you realize—the one that Luke writes about in his opening chapter (since there are a number of Zechariahs throughout the Scriptures). This Zechariah loved God, no doubt about that, having served in the ‘family business’ of being a priest his entire life. That can be like any of us raised in our particular denomination, learning to know and love God, and continuing throughout adulthood praying, serving, and listening for His voice.
Like us, Zechariah’s faith represented a remnant of believers who found themselves –salmon-like–swimming upstream in an increasingly secular society. Scientific materialism hadn’t yet reared its ugly head in the first century—one of the many reasons for today’s worldly drift—but a loss of hope was starting to permeate Israel’s collective mindset.
Over 400 years had lapsed since God’s people had heard His voice through one of the holy prophets, Malachi being the last. The faithful remnant’s discouragement was outweighed only by a daily hope that ‘this day’ would be different. God would surely speak to His people today.
And then it happened. Zechariah had drawn the coveted lot, available only once in a priest’s life, to serve in the holiest portion of the Temple. After performing his duties and about to exit, the angel Gabriel appears. How even the most devout can be afraid of a heavenly visitation might be inexplicable, but it is the consistent response throughout the Scriptures to that intersection when the human faces the divine. Gabriel quickly assures Zechariah not to be afraid, and then delivers that extraordinary message of promise. He and Elizabeth, a couple long barren, will give birth to a boy to be named John who “even before his birth …will be filled with the Holy Spirit “ (Luke 1:15).
In the spirit of Elijah, John will prepare the way for the long-promised Messiah that is to be the savior to Israel. The Old Testament pattern of promise and fulfillment is coming to fruition in the life of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the world.
In Zechariah’s crowning moment of this angel visitation, he doubts its source, thereby teaching us a lesson that steadfastness and conviction actually lead to something – to glorious moments of experiencing God’s presence through his angel messengers. Although Gabriel silences Zechariah for his unbelief temporarily, the healing restoration of his voice comes with his obedience in naming the baby John nine months later.
Characters like Zechariah reach across time and space to our 21st century world to teach us the most practical spiritual lessons – about receptivity, expectation, devotion and obedience. While the angel’s message was ultimately for the savior whose appearance we celebrate this Christmas, I’m grateful to Zechariah for preparing my heart for God’s great gift.
Merry Christmas everyone.