In the months leading up to the birth of Jesus a priest named Zechariah was serving in the temple. Zechariah was old; he and his wife had never been able to have children1.
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
Luke 1:11-13 (ESV)
As joyous as the news of (finally) becoming a father might have been, Zechariah didn’t believe the angel.
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
Luke 1:18-20 (ESV)
It’s ironic that the very instrument that would let Zechariah share the good news of both his unborn son, John; and, ultimately, the coming of the Messiah, was the very thing he lost in his lack of faith. It’s often frustrating to be given a remarkable gift only to have one’s own inadequacy hinder the sharing of that very gift.
Zechariah could have spent the ensuing months fostering bitterness and resentment. He didn’t. His attitude was one of humility and repentance. And when afforded the opportunity to speak the very first words out of his mouth were:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
Luke 1:68-69 (ESV)
It’s not immediately obvious, but the word translated blessed is actually the Greek word eulogetos; it’s familiar because we often use a related word in English, eulogy, in the context of speaking of a person who has passed. Eulogetos is simply a word that means to praise. If we think of the praise we have when giving a eulogy of a loved one who is no longer with us we can better understand the high regard in which Zechariah placed God. When giving a eulogy it is not uncommon to only affirm the person’s most endearing attributes. While in the New Testament eulogetos is only used in reference to God, the common root of eulogetos and eulogy literally means to tell. And Zechariah had only good things to tell of God.
As a priest Zechariah served as a mediator or bridge between God and His people. There’s irony that Zechariah was unable to be that mediator and communicate to God’s people all that he experienced and that was to come. But it’s fitting that his son, John the Baptist, would be called into a similar role of preparing God’s people for the Messiah2.
Despite the disbelief Zechariah displayed to the angel, it’s important to remember that God judged him to be righteous and blameless3. God knew beforehand Zechariah was not going to believe Him, but that didn’t alter the high regard in which God placed Zechariah. There were consequences to his inadequacy, but it didn’t affect God’s decision. God is less concerned about perfection and more concerned about direction.
The narrative of Zechariah and Elizabeth marks the beginning of a sequence of events that culminate in the birth of Jesus. Christmas is a time when we share that story; it’s a good story that does not do justice to the events. Jesus stepping into our world is the genesis of opportunity. It’s the opportunity Zechariah had to finally share the good news. And it’s the opportunity we now have to yield the direction of our lives to God through His Son, Jesus.