Friday after the Third Sunday in Advent
Scripture: St. Luke 1:1-25 (NKJV)
1 Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. 8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. 23 And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
In distinction from how the angel will appear to Mary in tomorrow’s reading, he appears to Zacharias spouting all the promises of whom John the Baptist would be, and firmly rooting them in the prophecy of Malachi. Zacharias was married, so other than his and his wife’s advanced age—which was no problem for God in dealing with Abram and Sarai!—there was no reason for him to question what the angel said. He could go home from his service at the Temple and what Gabriel said would happen would, indeed, happen.
Zacharias, though, asks the question how it was that he would experience this joy, since he and Elizabeth were old. That is, he wasn’t looking for evidence of how he would know that these words were true, but was openly discounting them. Because of this, and since there was no sign like Mary would be given that would be available—her conceiving while remaining a virgin and having her elderly kinswoman also being pregnant—Gabriel told Zacharias that his tongue that had just confessed unbelief would not be loosed until he would confess that God’s promise was true, not only that the birth that had taken place was prophesied by Gabriel, but that the time had come for repentance for all, because John would be the forerunner of the Christ, and through the Christ forgiveness of sins would be won for all.
“O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” Apart from your Word giving me faith, I have nothing worth saying; grant, therefore, that I may never speak from unbelief, but have my lips opened only by the Gospel of Christ in which You cause me to trust. Amen.