Luke 1:5-25 NRSVue
5In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8Once when he was serving as priest before God during his section’s turn of duty, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. 10Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. 13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know that this will happen? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering at his delay in the sanctuary. 22When he did come out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was ended, he returned to his home.
24After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25“This is what the Lord has done for me in this time, when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
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Some thoughts on this scripture
Zechariah was speechless through lack of faith. His obstinacy to believe made him isolated and like an island among his family and fellow-priests. Faith draws us into communion with many others, of all faiths and churches. We share much in faith, and forge links which bind us in prayer, support and friendship. Zechariah was never deserted by God; with the birth of John his faith returned and God looked favourably on him. A child may often bring us to faith where faith is missing. Watch a child today, think of a child today, remember childhood today, and be close to life, to mystery and to God!
This was a red-letter day for Zechariah: he had been chosen by lot from the hundreds of available priests, to offer incense for the Jewish nation. His childlessness, the great grief of his life, would have been on his mind as he prayed. The revelation that he would be the father of a special child was such an answer to prayer as to strike him speechless.
Lord, before I existed, my parents prayed that I would be born, would live, would have a destiny with you. I thank you for the wonder of my being.
Zechariah served as a priest in the Jerusalem Temple. One of the duties of the priests was to keep the brazier burning that stood on the altar of incense in front of the Holy of Holies. They would fill the brazier with fresh incense before the morning sacrifice, and again at the evening sacrifice. It was during such an occasion that God's messenger, Gabriel, appears and foretells the birth of John the Baptist. Later, when his wife Elizabeth, against all odds, finds herself pregnant, she proclaims, "This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people." Barrenness was considered a humiliation and even God's punishment
As I contemplate this scene, am I ever awed by the great things God has done for me during my life?