Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Zechariah and Elizabeth: Hopeful Anticipation

Luke 1:5–25, 67–80

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold (Luke 1:5–25)

Around the time of Jesus’ birth to the young maiden Mary, God provided another miraculous birth, this time to an aged and barren relative of Mary’s. The old couple were Zechariah and Elizabeth, a priestly family. Following a pattern that the Old Testament developed several times to keep God’s covenant moving, God promised a miraculous birth to a barren couple. This had happened with the patriarchs and their wives and with Samson. And it would happen again most miraculously with Mary.

Zechariah was a priest serving his rota in the temple. Standing at the incense altar he heard God’s promise of a son to him and his aged wife. God gave him orders about naming the child “John,” and about committing him to something like the Nazirite vow (1:15a). God then promised, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth” (1:15b), a promise that echoed the promise about prophets and deliverers (Judg 13:5, 7; Isa 49:1; Jer 1:5). Of course, Zechariah had some trouble getting his mind around that idea, just as Abraham and Sarah had when they were told their days in the nursing home would be livened by the birth of a child. And Because Zechariah had a difficult time believing it, God promised him a sign: “You will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born” (Luke 1:20).

When Zechariah got off duty as a priest he went home and had slept with his wife. At their age, Elizabeth may have found even that a bit of a surprise. And imagine her amazement when she got pregnant. I don’t know whether morning sickness or a big belly gave her the first clues, since there wouldn’t have been any missed periods to give the first alert. Of course, Zechariah’s frantic scribbling may have passed the news to her—perhaps on the night they gray, wrinkled couple conceived John in geriatric intimacy.

Before either John or Jesus were born, their mothers visited each other, and rejoiced at the thing that God was doing in their families. In fact the greeting of Mary, who was bearing Jesus in her womb, provoked quite a response. “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). The result was a brief prophecy: “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed” (1:42). Under that same Spirit she identified Mary as “the mother of my Lord” (1:43). And she blessed Mary, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said” (1:45).

Birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57–66)

In due course, Elizabeth gave birth to a baby boy, to much rejoicing. When it came time to circumcise and name the child, the announced his name as “John,” which surprised everyone (Luke 1:60, 63). They could have been expecting Zechariah Jr. or the name of some favorite uncle or grand dad. But this one belonged to the Lord not to his aged parents. “Awe fell on the whole neighborhood” (1:65) and news spread” The question arose: “What will this child turn out to be?” (1:66).

Zechariah’s Prophecy (Luke 1:67–80)

The Holy Spirit not only opened Zechariah’s mouth after he properly named the child John. He was also “filled with the Holy Spirit” and prophesied (1:67), by way of answering the people’s question (1:66). Zechariah’s prophecy was actually twofold: It told of the coming Savior that God was sending (1:68–75), and he said his own son John would be a prophet preaching to prepare the way for that Savior (1:76–79; see Mal 3:1; 4:5; Isa 40:3–5).

Questions, Reflections, and Commitments

  • None of us ought to expect to place ourselves in the shoes of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the Virgin Mary. They were people that God chose to act through and advance redemptive history in unique ways. But their response to promise, whether in incredulity or belief, can exhort us to respond with faith when God calls on us in our own humble service.
  • None of us ought to expect that our child is a John the Baptist, to say nothing of a Christ. But these mothers raised their sons to be used of God according to his promise. Commit yourself to raising your child in such a way that they will be open to serving God. And encourage them to do it when the times come for them to act on God’s call.

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