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An angelic announcement to a startled priest

December 14, 2023

Daily Scripture

Luke 1:5-25

5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. 8 One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. 10 All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. 11 An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear.
13 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. 16 He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers[a] back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”
19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. 20 Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered why he was in the sanctuary for such a long time. 22 When he came out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he gestured to them and couldn’t speak. 23 When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. 24 Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, 25 “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

“Because there were [an estimated 18,000] priests, special duties had to be assigned by lot…. This was likely Zechariah’s only opportunity to perform this service during his lifetime.” * Zechariah probably already thought he’d remember the day for the rest of his life. Gabriel’s ** arrival was totally surprising. His amazing message to the aged priest was clearly worded to remind him of the words of the prophet Malachi (cf. Malachi 3:1, 4:5).

  • Had Zechariah and Elizabeth given up hope for a child? Gabriel’s words (verse 13— “Your prayers have been heard”) suggested not. As to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15), God’s messenger said Elizabeth would finally bear the child they’d prayed for. But Zechariah hesitated to trust that “good news” (verse 19). Are you ever tempted to think God never would or could make your life any better? Do you think hope is naïve, even foolish, or a solid foundation for facing life?
  • We find this several times in the Advent story: “When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear” (verse 12). Fear made it hard for Zechariah to take in the angel’s “good news” (verse 19). Yet Gabriel’s first words were, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah” (verse 13). “Don’t be afraid” is the command God and God’s messengers give most often in the Bible. This Advent season, in what part(s) of life do you most need to take in the message, “Do not be afraid”?

Lord God, you know how often doubt and fear tug at my heart. Help me internalize your message of hope and promise, reminding me to trust and not to fear. Amen.

GPS Insights

Dawn North

Dawn North

Dawn North is fairly new to Church of the Resurrection and lives with her husband, Jim, in their comfy cozy log cabin in rural Edgerton. She was a middle school teacher and now is a ‘sometimes’ freelance writer. She loves hanging out with her kids and grandkids and is an amateur beekeeper.

It isn’t hard for me to identify with Zechariah. Not because he was a male. Nor because he was a priest. It might, though, have something to do with his age or the color of his hair. (smiles) But, seriously, it is really none of those things. Zechariah, in the midst of his blessings, doubted that God was willing and able to accomplish the marvelous things promised him. Sadly, I too, tend to doubt God when fear and negative thinking swallow me up.

Zechariah had a big day ahead of him and a lot to do, but talking to an angel was not on his “To Do” list. What was on his list was lighting the incense in the holiest room of the temple. The excitement and anticipation, I imagine, were overwhelming. Did he wear his finest robe? Did Elizabeth sew him a new one? He probably even bathed and washed his hair. This day was special. Zechariah felt holy. Close to God.

But Zechariah was human. Like me. And when the angel showed up, he was caught off guard. His attention was focused on not dropping the incense or letting it go out. He was afraid. And when fear comes upon us, we are not able to think. Our bodies are trained to fight, flee or freeze. Zechariah froze. He became flustered. And he failed the faith test. As I often do.

Along with my mom’s passion for Santas, snow globes and all things Christmas, I inherited her tendency to worry. Fear and anxiety have preyed upon me for most of my adult life. It seems crazy, but even when I am surrounded by blessings and feel close to God, a negative thought can pop into my mind and, instead of ignoring that unasked-for-thought, I latch onto it. Then I am hooked. Pretty soon I have convinced myself that those thoughts must be true (which they aren’t) and I find myself in panic mode about something that isn’t even real. In a matter of minutes.

I am, however, making progress in learning how to navigate life without this dynamic duo, but it’s slow and it’s hard. Yet I am so much more than that one piece of me.  Like Zechariah. He was much more than his failure to believe.

How easy it is to focus on our weaknesses and our failures instead of all the other fabulous strengths and accomplishments and goodness that we are. God was pleased with Zechariah. He chose him for great things. We are no different. God is pleased with you and me. And he has chosen us for great things.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Kindle Locations 232061-232065). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
** “One of the two angels whom the Bible names: the other is Michael,” from R. J. Bauckham, article “Gabriel” in The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, USA, 1996, p. 389.