"Characters of Christmas: 2. Zechariah"

Zechariah was a priest, and he and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist. Although the odds were pretty slim that that would be true—the parent part, that is.

For years and years Zechariah and Elizabeth had wanted children. They had prayed to God that they have children. And it never happened—and from the perspective of a priest, it was logical to assume that God didn’t want it to happen, for whatever reason that God didn’t seem to make clear.  So Zechariah had pretty much given up on this lifelong dream they’d had, since they had gotten too old for it to happen. And then one day, while Zechariah is at work, the angel Gabriel visits him, and tells him that his prayer is answered.  They will have a son. (And Gabriel adds some details about how they will name him, how they will raise him, and why.)

Zechariah had for all practical purposes forgotten about that prayer. He is an old man (he himself says so), and his wife is beyond childbearing years.  And so how can he believe what Gabriel is saying? After all, who would, even if this IS an angel, a messenger from God?  So his basic response is “Yeah, right.  How can I believe this?  It’s not possible” (Revised Stollings Version). Gabriel says (again, Revised Stollings Version), “Oh yeah, it’s going to happen.  And because you don’t believe it, you don’t get to talk about it UNTIL it happens”. Which is what happens, as the passage in Luke 2 tells us.

I read something recently addressing this story of Zechariah. The author says that in essence we are ALL Zechariah, all of us. We tend not to believe what God can do, if it doesn’t fit with the way we understand life—or understand our own lives. We genuinely want to be good followers of Jesus, but it is sometimes really hard to believe that God can make a change in a situation that seems unchanging. Or that God can make a change in us when what we’ve always wanted, even prayed for, doesn’t work out for forever.  God never did before; why would God now?  When we always see what doesn’t happen, how can we believe that something CAN happen?  It’s better not to even talk about it.  Like Zechariah, who literally COULDN’T talk about it.

Until it happens, in spite of us not believing it would.  Then we can’t shut up about it—like Zechariah.  Once we realize that God in God’s timing works out what God desires for us—and some of that is actually what WE desire, and have prayed for—then we find the words, as Zechariah did, to praise God for the mystical, magical, mysterious and “I’d never have thought of it happening that way in a million years” way that God brings about what seems at best unlikely, at worst impossible.  As the saying goes, “God makes a way where there is no way”.

And God does this even when we can’t believe it can happen. 

God can.  For Zechariah, God did. For us, God can too. 


GOSPEL                   Luke 1:5-24, 57-80

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. 8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.   13 But 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. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for 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. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With 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.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The 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. 20 But 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.” 21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not 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. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After 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 when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after    his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said,   “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand    of the Lord was with him.

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us   in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through   the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteous-ness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be    called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.    78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high  will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet     into the way of peace.” 80 The child grew and became    strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day  he appeared publicly to Israel.


John 1:1-5

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.


GOSPEL John 1:14

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth.


NEW TESTAMENT Revelation 22:12-14, 17

12 ‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ 

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes,* so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 

17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.