It seems a strange start. After a few verses of introduction the gospel of Luke launches into the story of Jesus by telling us about Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children … and both were getting on in years. – Luke 1:6-7 NRSV
Zach is a priest. As the story begins he is in Jerusalem at the temple offering incense in the “Lord’s sanctuary” (CEB).
I’m much more likely to light a candle than to burn incense – especially when something beyond a spoken prayer seems appropriate.
The people who have gathered to worship are outside praying.
Until a few days ago I’d never noticed the worshipers in this story. They were outside PRAYING.
No word on the content of their prayers. But as I read it on Monday I imagined they were praying for the priest. Priests and pastors and preachers and worship leaders of all kinds appreciate prayers on our behalf. We may not mention it. Most of the time we don’t think about it. But when church life is crazy or busy or both (like before Christmas!), knowing that even one person has offered a prayer to God for you is a precious gift.
While the people are praying, Zach’s public ministry takes a decidedly personal turn. An angel appears and tells him HIS prayers have been heard. He and his wife – who are older than old (kind of like Abraham and Sarah of years gone by) – will become parents.
Somehow I don’t think become a parent was Zach’s prayer that day. Because of their advanced years I suspect both Zach and Liz were no longer petitioning God for a child. Not that they didn’t continue to long for a son or a daughter. But no longer believing it might happen.
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and are very old.” Luke 1:18 CEB
Zach’s response rings true with me. It’s honest. And it’s the last thing he’ll be able to speak aloud until his son is born.
Once he’s home, Liz becomes pregnant. Her response: “This is the Lord’s doing.”
This part of the story causes me to pause. I think of would-be parents who have been unable to conceive and the parents whose children died at – or before – or shortly after – birth. So much heart ache. Lord, in your mercy.
Zach and Liz’s child is, of course, John. Not Jesus. It’s John, the one who will prepare the way. A strange start, I think, to the story of Jesus.
With prayers for Pastor Dave and Pastor Amy (my pastors), for all who lead worship, and for parents and would-be parents, Teressa