The Beginning of a New day
Zechariah and Elizabeth were at the end of things. Their course was nearly run, their race was nearly over. They had faithfully served God for their many years, carefully listening to His word, obediently doing what that word said, both known to be righteous before God. They had been deeply involved in the faith-life of the people of God all their lives, Zechariah as a priest, Elizabeth born into a priestly family. As rich and as full as life had been for them, they were however touched with disappointment. Now approaching their twilight years, they lived with the disappointment that they had not been able to have children. Their line ended with them.
Regularly going about his daily duties, Zechariah found himself being the one chosen by lot to offer up the incense at the golden altar in the Holy Place, before the curtain in front of the Most Holy Place. This sacrifice, offered morning and evening, day after day, was a symbolic way of remembering the presence of the glory-cloud of the LORD that had come on the Tabernacle and then, later, the Temple. It was an offering that spoke to Israel of the Living One in their midst who could and would again save His people from oppression and bring them to liberty, the Living One who can make all things new, the Living One whose mercy is like rising sunshine on those who live in darkness.
And this regular day was turned for Zechariah into that new dawn. The angel Gabriel came to tell him that even now, the prayers he and Elizabeth had offered had been heard, and that she would bear a son, whom they were to name John. He was to be set apart to serve the LORD, like those Nazarites in the Old Testament, for the Spirit of God was going to be with him from his conception, to enable him to be part of the renewing of all things, the turning around of the nation back to God – a task just as impossible as his own conception!
Faithful, righteous Zechariah couldn’t believe his ears – but he should have! Righteousness is in hearing the word of God and doing it – and he’d had plenty of practice. But at this remarkable promise to him, he couldn’t yet let go of his history of disappointment. And so, if he couldn’t take the angel’s word, he couldn’t make words himself until the child would be born; he emerged from the Holy Place mute.
Well, after that Elizabeth conceived. Perhaps she had a history of miscarriage, and so she kept herself (and her news) hidden for five months, until it seemed certain that the pregnancy would hold. And then she could gladly tell the news – shame had been turned to joy; the LORD had looked on her with favour! And that was a promise for the world!!!