Luke 1:1-25, 57-80

When you look back over your life, is there a year or an event that stands out to you as a life altering experience? How about if we narrow the search and just ask that question on a spiritual level? Can you think of a set of circumstances that define your life in a completely new way since you have lived through them? I would say that I have events that changed my life, (getting married, the births of our three kids) and one set of circumstances that altered my spiritual life dramatically. Almost 20 years ago my husband and I spent a year of our lives (with a three year old and two 18 month old kids) knowing that I had a 50/50 chance of living/dying from cancer. That diagnosis changed EVERYTHING in our lives and in our hearts. It deeply imbedded God’s truth and His promises into our souls like no other event I’ve experienced since. If we could interview Zechariah today, I’m guessing he would have a similar description of the events in his life that we get to look at together in our reading.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were descendants of the priestly line of Aaron. They were righteous in God’s eyes and careful to obey God’s commands. Zechariah dedicated his life to the Lord and served as a priest in the temple for many years as he was an old man at this point in his life. On this day, Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Temple and burn incense before the Lord. It was a huge honor for him as a priest to be chosen for this job. While in the sanctuary, and angel appeared to him. We read about angels appearing to people in the Bible often enough that I think we might be callused to the impact this actually has on a person. Can you think, for just a moment, about what it must actually be like to be in a room alone, doing your job and then be joined by a spiritual being that is not known or describable in human terms? The Bible says that Zechariah was “shaken and overwhelmed with fear”. Yes I suppose that succinctly describes how I might feel under these circumstances.

The angel’s message starts with, “Don’t be afraid”.  Hmm…that’s probably not going to alleviate much fear but what other option did the angel have? No words are going to settle a person in this circumstance. The angel continues with his message to Zechariah. “Your wife will give you a son. You are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. He will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” This is all so much! Obviously Zechariah is still completely overwhelmed as his response to the angel only deals with the first thing the angel told him. It’s as if he didn’t even hear the rest of the message. “How can I be sure this is going to happen? I’m an old man now and my wife is old too!”

Then the angel says,” I am Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” It is pretty safe to say that this had to have been the most life-altering day in Zechariah’s life. As we finish reading the verses for today we see that God did accomplish His plan.  John was born to Elizabeth and grew up becoming strong in spirit. Zechariah was given back his voice and his response to God’s good gifts are recorded at the very end of our reading.

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” I love this message shared with us from a faithful old man, rich in wisdom and experience, and full of hope and wonder after being altered by God. We probably won’t be visited by an angel in our lifetimes, and I hope you don’t have to face cancer or some other horrible set of circumstances, but I hope we all have opportunity after opportunity to be altered by God. I hope our hearts are soft to His work, our schedules allow time to listen to His voice, and our priority in life is Him.