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. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 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. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.” 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.” 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. 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.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 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. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “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.”
Do you have trouble believing that God will do great works in your life? In today’s Gospel, we read about a great priest who had the high honor of going into the sanctuary of the Lord, but then not being able to apply his knowledge of the Bible and faith in God, and believe that God could also work through him and his wife.
In order to go into the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies, you had to be a high priest. Zechariah was righteous, blameless, and followed all of the Lord’s commands and regulations, and so did his wife, Elizabeth, who was also descended from the priestly order of Aaron. We are also told they were older and did not have any children, although had they prayed for them.
While Zechariah was going along with his priestly duties of offering incense while everyone outside was a praying, he was visited by Gabriel and was terrified. Gabriel begins with words that the Lord has used in the past when addressing the great men and prophets, “Do not be afraid.” Whenever we hear this phrase, we should trust that a great message will follow. He continues by telling him his prayers have been heard and he and Elizabeth would have a son! Finally, he goes on about how great their son would be! What parent would not want to hear how great their child would be in the sight of the Lord: He would be filled with the power of Elijah (a great prophet whom Zechariah would have been very familiar with), he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, he will turn many people to God, and make the people of Israel ready for the Lord. Zechariah is also commanded to name him “John” and that he is not to let him drink wine or strong drink. This is a Nazirite vow or sacrifice to be “holy unto the Lord” (Number 6:8), again proving he was to be consecrated to the Lord. All of this fed into Zechariah’s head knowledge of following the law and fulfilment of prophecy. Zechariah should have also been familiar with other stories of miraculous births, like in Genesis where Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 when the Lord gave them their son, Isaac. Yet, when he is presented his own miracle, he asks, “How can this be? I’m old and so is my wife!”
We too, when presented with our own miracles can sometimes think that God will not be able to accomplish them. We often forget that God is bigger than us, and that with Him, nothing is impossible – even being blessed with a child when its far past our years. Because Zechariah doubted what Gabriel said he was temporarily punished by not being able to talk until all was fulfilled. If we question God’s actions with a heart of disbelief, not genuine wonder as Mary did (which we will read about tomorrow), we can be reprimanded for our unfaithfulness, but we will not lose the blessing if it is in God’s will because God’s plan will always be fulfilled.
My dearest Lord and Savior, please increase my faith in You. Help me to trust that you will fulfill all of your promises, and not doubt that you do wonderful things in my life that may seem unbelievable. I know that all things are accomplished according to your divine plan. Please fill me with the Holy Spirit, so that I will understand Your will and accept your blessings with a grateful heart. In your Blessed and Holy Name. Amen.