By Sherry Black
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 1:1-25
1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 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. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both of priestly lineage, they lived righteously and followed the commandments of God. Serving God in the temple as was his duty, Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and offer incense. Alone in the house of God, an angel appeared, and Zechariah was understandably terrified. The angel gave a short speech about the son that would be born to him and his wife, an answer to prayer, a very special son who would be great before God. When he had the occasion to respond to the angel, Zechariah scoffed at the news. “I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman. How will I know this is so?”
The Angel Gabriel wasn’t impressed by his attitude, and Zechariah was struck mute. Still, Elizabeth conceived, and rejoiced. Here’s your sign, Zechariah.
I must confess that I too occasionally (and mostly inwardly) scoff at things people say. As a hospital chaplain I’ve seen miracles, medical and otherwise. I believe in miracles, I just don’t expect them at times. Because, as we know, they are rare. But perhaps I should be more open to the idea; some of my friends and colleagues have much higher expectations of God than I! Lord I believe, please help my unbelief.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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Today we pray for:
St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Shreveport, La.
The Diocese of Ikwuano (Church of Nigeria – Anglican Communion)