‘ In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.’
You can live in the world your eyes can see, but it will only ever be half the picture.
Zechariah’s eyes were old. He and Elizabeth had seen an absence of things hoped for, empty arms cradling despair. And for Elizabeth, this childlessness meant shame (Luke 1:25). Their eyes had grown old and tired. Hope worn threadbare thin. They didn’t expect a miracle.
‘When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear’- Zechariah was serving in the temple, but he wasn’t expecting God to show up. Not like this. Fear is his response. This is interesting in comparison to Mary’s response in the next chapter. Zechariah is startled and ‘gripped with fear’ at the angel’s appearance. Mary is troubled, not by the angel’s appearance but by his puzzling words to her. She wasn’t startled that Heaven showed up, she just wasn’t sure what it meant.
Zechariah was deeply afraid. Startled. He didn’t expect God to be there. Not like this.
‘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. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, ‘
Your prayer has been heard.
Sometimes in the silence, prayer can feel like talking to ourselves. Like an imagination game, like it’s all going nowhere.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were old. They had waited for their prayers to be answered for a very very very long time. It must have felt as though their prayers were going nowhere. Unheard voices, Unseen tears, unrealised hopes.
We live in the reality we believe. And in the silence it’s easier to believe in doubt that in faith. Safer. Less challenging. Much less disappointing. Faith is a risk. The risk of trusting heaven with your heart’s deepest hopes. Trusting that Heaven exists even when we do not immediately see it. Faith is seeing in the emptiness the waiting presence of God. With us. Faith is knowing our voices are heard even in the silence.
Zechariah’s Angel had good news, God was about to show up, not just in Zechariah’s life, but in the life of all Israel just as He’d promised…
‘…for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’
…But Zechariah, his faith had grown old and tired and worn a little thin. He didn’t expect to see an angel show up, he didn’t expect to see all his and Elizabeth’s hopes realised. He didn’t expect any of this. How could he believe his ears? His eyes?
‘Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.’
Surely the angel had made a mistake. Surely the old and tired reality of his age, this biological and emotional reality of an old heart worn thin by years of waiting was more real than this strange new reality God spoke of.
‘How can I be sure of this?’
‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’ Hebrews 11:1
We live in the reality we believe. And in the silence its easier to believe in doubt that in faith. Safer. Less challenging. Much less disappointing.
Never mind that it’s an Angel of God whom you’re arguing with about what is real. Zechariah wanted proof in order to hope. Because the presence of an angel of God wasn’t proof enough. The world within our minds can be so much louder than the larger world outside, the larger reality that includes God with us.
‘The angel said to him, ‘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 appointed time.’
Belief matters. Because our beliefs create the world we live in. And unbelief creates a world without God. A world of loneliness and despair. A world of hustling to survive. A world of anxiety and fear.
This God has gone to extraordinary lengths to be with us… it’s the whole point of our existence, to be with Him. Emmanuel, God is with us! Right here. Right now. And yet, in our broken belief systems we live blind to His presence.
God is with us. He wants to show up. He wants to move in our lives.
Sometimes hearts grow tired, sometimes hope gets threadbare thin.
But God is on His way. Wait for Him.
Your prayers are heard.
‘After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people’