“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. . .” Luke 1:11-13
Talk about what might cause a person to wet his pants?!?! That would be an angelic visitation from the most powerful heavenly being created by God. Imagine Zechariah, positioned at the altar, making preparation to offer up incense for his priestly division. Fingers trembling, sweat starting to drip. After all, this is the only chance in Zechariah’s lifetime that he’d have the opportunity due to the large number of priests. He had been chosen by “lot” but we know God’s fingerprints are all over the timing.
Then there’s suddenly a large, majestic angel standing to the right of the altar. Startled would be an understatement. The Scripture says “gripped with fear.” What might have gone through Zechariah’s mind? “Nobody told me about this guy!” “Am I messing this up?” “Is this my TIME?”
Then the words with such a personal message. Do not be afraid Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard. “Which one? We’ve prayed so many over the years?” Then the words Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son land in a desert place in Zachariah’s heart.
“Oh, that longing. It’s been so many years since we’ve cried out for a child. That request has become a long-forgotten dream. We prayed and prayed in our child-bearing years when our friends were having children and watched them all grow up, leaving home to follow their paths. After trying everything to trust the Lord to conceive, we gave up. To think about the desire for a child and the pain of it being unfulfilled is too much in my old age. I’ve put it to rest and really don’t know whether I can believe. How can I know this for sure? We’ve tried everything and I couldn’t bear to see Elizabeth upset.”
It’s almost as if Zechariah didn’t hear the words the angel Gabriel used to describe his son whose is to be named John. He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice at his birth. He will be great in the sight of the Lord and he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Zechariah couldn’t hear because of the disappointment of the past. His former experience and probably the conclusions he had arrived at when facing their inability to have children overshadowed his ability to receive God’s mercy in the present.
God’s hand of mercy reaches out to Zechariah by showing him His power through discipline and also a sign. Gabriel declares, 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 appointed time.
Mercy is defined as “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.” No doubt God had compassion on Zachariah and Elizabeth with the birth of their son in such an untimely manner. Yet His compassion to them personally was laden with mercy on the nation of Israel and ultimately the world.
This Christmas consider the unanswered prayers in your life. Have you grown cynical or given up on God’s movement in other areas because this request remains unfulfilled? Can you ask for a new place of rest in God’s intricate timing and purposes through your life in your current circumstances? Can you receive God’s divine favor and compassion in creative ways? Can you place your ultimate hope in God’s good intentions for you demonstrated in Jesus Christ?
God’s passion for you and me orchestrated the exact events to take place in history including the birth of a son in a couple’s old age. (No doubt they were looking at their baby through reading glasses!) In God’s merciful timing, his birth coincided with the divine arrival of Emmanuel so that John could prepare the way for Jesus by pointing the people of Israel to their Messiah. Jesus would be revealed in time and suffer a horrible humiliation on the cross for our sins. Mercy in the cross is forgiveness extended to all who believe.
Merry Christmas sister! May you savor reflecting upon The Greatest Story Ever Told. ~Laura