Each year as we draw near to Christmas, the book of Luke, chapter 2, is read numerous times retelling the story of Jesus’ birth. Recently, the first chapter of Luke and the “story before the story” was brought to my attention. Not that I’ve never read it before, but I usually don’t recall this particular part of the story when describing or reading about the night Jesus was born. In a time of history when people have begun walking away from belief in God due to prophetic silence for over 400 years, the prequel to the birth of Christ begins in the temple with a priest named Zechariah. It is a time of awakening for the remnant of God!
Luke 1, beginning in verse 5:
5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 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. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 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. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 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.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 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. 20 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.”
Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were both from the priestly line of Aaron. Both had served God throughout their lives with the prayer of becoming parents; having a son so that they might have an heir. They were both “well along in years” and Elizabeth carried the mark of being barren, which was a hardship for a woman especially in this time frame. I’m sure they probably questioned, from time to time, why this was not occurring for them, but never do I read in scripture they gave up their faith due to the answer not coming from God as they’d hoped.
But one day while in the temple outside the Holy of Holies as Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties, Gabriel, God’s messenger appeared. Can you just imagine with me the appearance of Gabriel just for you?? As I have read in many accounts, the first thing most of these heavenly beings have to address is the fear factor! They must be quite the sight, or unusual sight for a human’s vision! But listen to these words, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard!” Wouldn’t you just enjoy hearing those words spoken? Just to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your prayer, weak or inadequate as words seem to be at times, has been heard by God Almighty? And yet God does hear our prayers, each and every one.
I often visualize prayers being offered up to our Lord to resemble a lot of specks, or almost like sands by the seashore. But all the voices of those prayers are happening at one time. You nor I can understand one word being spoken since they are all being lifted up in various languages, but because God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, His hearing is perfect. He hears each one spoken as if we are the only ones in the room. Isn’t that magnificent?
And after 400 years, God is on the move in the hearts and lives of His people…beginning with a couple well beyond the years of childbearing. A faithful couple will have a son, John, and he will be,
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Father God, what a wonderful time of year for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ! We celebrate the birth of Your Son, our Redeemer, sent to us as a babe, fully man and fully God, to be the sacrificial Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Christmas…the season bears the name of the One and Only Son of Almighty God. May we continue to proclaim His Name regardless of the cost. In Him we pray, Amen!