“Christmas Characters: Elizabeth and Zechariah”
Luke 1:39-45, 57-64
Last week we looked at angels. And while we were looking at angels we heard how the angel Gabriel came to Zechariah.
Zechariah is an old man. He’s a priest in the temple, one who was in charge of taking care of the place and the people who came to visit it. He was married to a woman by the name of Elizabeth. They both were descendants of Aaron, a long line of priestly heritage existed in this family. But they were unable to have children.
Zechariah was chosen to enter into the temple and burn the incense while people prayed outside. (Only priests were allowed in the temple) While he was in the temple this particular day, the angel Gabriel came to him and told him that he and his wife will have a child. Zechariah is told that this son will be grow to be a great man, a man who will proclaim the coming of the Lord, the Messiah, the expected Saviour of the world.
In a moment of doubt, or maybe reality, Zechariah questions Gabriel about how this could even be possible. To make a point, and to show there is much more than just man at work here, the angel tells Zechariah he will not be able to speak until the child is born.
Zechariah makes his way home, and sure enough his wife Elizabeth becomes pregnant. The shame she once carried as a woman unable to bear a child is gone, and she is delighted in the gift God has blessed them with.
When it came time and Elizabeth gave birth, since Zechariah was still unable to speak, when they took the child to be circumcised on his eighth day the priests wanted to call him Zechariah, after his father, as was tradition, even despite Elizabeth’s protests.
As the communicated with the father, he grabbed a tablet and wrote, “His name shall be John.”
He did just as the angel had instructed him, and his voice returned and immediately Zechariah praised God over and over.
We know that this child grew to be a prophet, baptizing people as a way of preparing their hearts to be ready when the promised Messiah would arrive. Preaching for people to repent of their sins because he was coming soon.
This man began as a promise of God, called to be the Elijah of his generation, calling people to be faithful and to listen to God because the time was coming soon, when God would do a great and wonderful thing in the world.
Throughout the Bible God has done great and wonderful things with unexpected people. Ordinary people. Plain people. People who would be seen as quite unlikely to bring about the great changes God desires.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are another example of some of these people. An old priest working in the temple, putting in his days of work, late in life, knowing death was probably not far off. Elizabeth, an older woman herself, carrying the shame of a lifetime in which she has been unable to have a child of her own. Looked on as a disappointment because of this, as though she has been cursed to never produce life.
Yet God has seen inside their hearts. God has chosen them to be parents to a special child themselves. A child who would proclaim that the Messiah is coming. A wild child who lived off the land, yet still ministered to many, many people. A man many would think hardly worthy of mention, yet there he is. His birth recorded in the Gospel of Luke, his life marked forever in the pages of scripture.
The same with Elizabeth and Zechariah. Two hardly worth mentioning people, even in their own time, chosen by God to such an important part of the work of God, and even in the life of Jesus Christ, yet they may have never met him.
There was no question from Elizabeth or Zechariah as to whether this was a special child or not. Zechariah, in his praise, said:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
The prophesying comes early. Zechariah is praising God for what is to come. He recognizes that the world is living in darkness and there is a light coming to shine in the world. A light that will chase away the darkness and bring peace to the earth.
The light has come my friends. The light shines brightly through Jesus Christ who has come to bring peace, to teach us to love, to show us mercy and how to show mercy.
We now carry this light within us. There is still a great darkness in the world, not because God allows it, but because we allow it. God has come in Jesus Christ to remove the darkness from the world, to disable the evil one and to bring love to all people.
We are the ones who are agents of the light. We are the ones who can bring peace to the world. Even if it’s one person at a time.
We might be tempted to say, I’m just Nick, how can I do something so great as that?
Elizabeth was just an old woman carrying a great amount of shame. Zechariah was an old priest just working away in the temple. John was a baby born to unlikely parents and grew up on his own in the wilderness.
Every one of us has a story. An ordinary, plain old life story. Just like Elizabeth and Zechariah. Yet they were open to God’s calling in their lives. They were faithful people, they relied on God in their daily lives, and they became part of something far greater than they could have ever imagined.
Over and over again in the Bible God shows us there’s no such thing as “too old” or “too poor” or “too ordinary” because God’s power and love is beyond anything we can imagine.
So in this Advent season, as we seek to find silence and inspiration in this time of busyness and chaos, let us remember we are chosen by God to be His messengers, His agents, His lights in the dark world.
No matter who we are or where we are in our lives. God is with us.
Jesus has come to the earth, and through him we are one with God.
We are just like Elizabeth and Zechariah, ordinary people, living our ordinary lives, yet still capable to do great and wonderful things in the name of God, through following His Son, Jesus Christ, the Promised One who came to bring peace to the world.