1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priest-hood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been 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 before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will 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 and he will 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 for the Lord a people prepared.” 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until Week the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” — Luke 1:1–25 (ESV)
In Luke’s Gospel, the Christmas story begins not with the birth of Jesus, but with the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. Zechariah and Elizabeth, John’s parents, were devout and righteous Jews. Elizabeth, like some of the Old Testament women who unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of God’s redemptive plan, was barren. Zechariah, being a loving and kind husband, had faithfully prayed for his wife to conceive, presumably for years.
While performing his temple duty, Zechariah encountered the angel Gabriel, who informed Zechariah that not only had God heard his prayers for his barren wife, but God was in fact going to answer his prayers. However, the child that Elizabeth would bear would be no ordinary child. John would serve a unique role in redemptive history as the pre-runner to Jesus, the promised and long-awaited Messiah. How did Zechariah respond? Doubt and disbelief. How often do we pray in unbelief? Like Zechariah, we faithfully bring our requests before God, but we don’t actually expect him to answer our prayers. We enter the temple and are surprised to encounter God. When God promises an answer, we doubt his power. Why did we even pray in the first place? God’s answer to Zechariah’s prayers was so much greater than anything Zechariah could have hoped for. Yes, Elizabeth was going to have a child, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. This child would prepare the way for the Savior Son that God promised Eve in the midst of her darkest moment (Genesis 3:15).
How often do we pray in unbelief? ...We enter the temple and are surprised to encounter God.
As we enter this Christmas season, let us consider and meditate upon Zechariah’s faithful prayers, his doubt, his silence, and God’s great love for sinners like us. May this Christmas season remind us that God is listening to us and that he hears our prayers. May we remember that God is able to answer our prayers, even if those answers are delayed by many years. May we be reminded that God loves to bless us with gifts that are so much more beautiful than anything we could even think to ask for.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. — Ephesians 3:20–21 (ESV)
You are who you say you are, Oh Lord, and every promise is true.
Each ornament, every cinnamon roll, each strand of twinkle lights, every snowflake, each carol:
Every one tells the story of prophecy fulfilled, and points to he who is King over them all.
From the snow on the mountains to the steam from our mugs,
All of creation sings an anthem of a Father’s love for us, a covenant upheld.
Why are we then surprised every time you make good on your word?
Though we are unworthy, a way has been made for us to come to our Good Shepherd in prayer.
Lord, we confess, we don’t always pray expectantly.
Often we pray as a final attempt when our own efforts have failed us.
Our hope and our imaginations are too narrow.
Still, you hear your children.
And better yet, we are answered.
What a grace that though we are feeble, the vows of our Maker are secure!
Let this Christmas season ignite in us new courage to pray with boldness.
May our prayers be lifted not as a last-ditch effort, but as a primary weapon.
Grant us assurance; heal our disbelief.
A wondrous thing about December is seeing most around us, even non-Christians, celebrating the birth of the Light of the World.
Give us eyes to see this as a foretaste of what is to come.
Every knee bowing, every tongue confessing:
Jesus is Lord.