Monday, September 5, 2016

Zechariah: A New Hope

Based on Luke 1:5-25

Zechariah waited. He didn’t mind. He gently fingered the fold of his robe and noticed the deep wrinkles and spreading age spots on his once smooth hands. How did that happen? He chuckled to himself. Time had a way of hiding in the corner barely perceptible, and then jumped out at the most unexpected moments, startling him. He knew he’d lived a long life, but it had all passed by so quickly. And though he was now one of the oldest members of his clan, at times he still felt like a youth.

His wife would tease him if she knew his thoughts. “A young man indeed!” She would scold, hands on hips, as she playfully winked at him. She was the love of his life. They had lived through many trials, the hardest being their childless home, yet she still made his eyes flicker mischievously as she passed by, his hand quick to tug on her apron string or sneak a baked good off the table.
His mind returned to the present. He stood amidst a group of hundreds of men, all his relatives, all priests, and all waiting. He heard footsteps and observed the men’s faces turn in unison to acknowledge the priest that entered the courtyard. The priest nodded. It was time. The lot was drawn and he had a name: Zechariah.
Zechariah’s eyebrows shot up. His lot was chosen? Twice a year his clan was called to serve for one week in the temple and each morning one priest was chosen randomly by lot to enter the Holy Place to burn incense. It was a sacred privilege, one many priests never experienced in their lifetime. Zechariah was surprised and honored by the unexpected opportunity.
As the priests assembled outside the temple, Zechariah prepared himself and the incense. The men prayed as Zechariah entered the Holy Place alone. He had trouble seeing as he entered the room. It was dark and the only light came from candles set on a golden lampstand to the left of the entrance. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he took a step forward. He knew the altar of incense was located in the center of the room so he headed in that direction. As he drew closer he stopped. He sensed a presence, perhaps a shadow, but it moved. Then the darkness turned into dazzling light and a man appeared. Zechariah froze, startled and gripped with fear.
The man spoke. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” The man continued with instructions, but Zechariah could not process the information. The man was saying that Zechariah would have a son? That Elizabeth’s barren womb would conceive a child? At their age?
He was bewildered, and asked, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The man seemed to grow larger, and glow brighter as he responded, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” The man disappeared, leaving Zechariah still standing, incense in hand, next to the altar.
Zechariah’s awe gradually turned to belief. He saw an angel in the Holy Place! An angel with incredible news! Zechariah placed the incense on the altar and turned to leave. As he exited the temple, the other priests looked at him curiously. He had been in there a long time. They waited for the custom Blessing of Aaron, but Zechariah was unable to say the words. He tried, but no sound came from his mouth. He began to motion with his hands, attempting to describe the indescribable. Somehow they deciphered his wild gestures and realized he’d been given a vision.
An angel had appeared to Zechariah in the Holy Place. An angel that knew his name, stood in the presence of the almighty God, and was sent to him—an old man with an old wife. Now they were given an unbelievable promise and a task. They would have a son with an extraordinary purpose. The angel had told him, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  And Zechariah and Elizabeth were selected to raise this unique child. The Lord was not finished with them yet.

Aaron’s Blessing:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine upon you
            And be gracious to you;
The LORD turn his face toward you
            And give you peace.
                                    Numbers 6:24-26


Ed. Kenneth Barker et al., The NIV Study Bible: 10th ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 1534 (note from Luke 1:21).

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