An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 19

“When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. 

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. 

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.’ 

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! but now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary. 

When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. ‘How kind the Lord is!’ she exclaimed. ‘He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.'” — Luke 1:5-25, NLT

Just climbing up all these steps is hard work when you’ve lived as long as I have. Yet even as I creak my way to the top, I am excited right down to my toes tonight. The lot has fallen to me. My once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity awaits: the Holy of Holies! The inner sanctuary, and I, poor old childless Zechariah — I get to light the incense and speak to God! 

But — what is this? What is this brightness, this burning beauty, right before these tired old eyes? Am I having a stroke? A hallucination? It speaks! Oh, my LORD!

Like a dream, the vision vanishes as quickly as it appeared and I am left speechless. Literally. Without a word to say, no story to tell. . . except this one: I have heard from God. And God has heard from me! The prayers of my heart are becoming real. The age of miracles is not past.

I am living, breathing proof of that truth: there is life yet in this ancient frame! My good woman, old as she is, will ripen with fruit that we make together. And this boy, this John? He will be wild and fierce and do the good, hard work of reconciliation. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Like the prophets of old, my boy will reverse my role – I speak to God on behalf of the people. That boy, that JOHN – he will speak to the people on behalf of God Almighty! Glory be.

Thank you for these good, good people in the story; for Zechariah and Elizabeth and John — gifts to the world, gifts to us. Thank you that you tell your story of redemption through ordinary, extraordinary people like them. Like us. We are never too old to see a promise fulfilled. We are never too young to carry the word of grace to the world. Thanks be to God! 

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