Yahweh has remembered
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. So it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.
When his division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, it happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”
“How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Now listen. You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was making signs to them and remained speechless. When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:1-25)
Zechariah, an obscure priest from a remote village in Judea, has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve in God’s temple. Many other priests will never get the chance. Someone has to keep the incense burning just outside of the most holy place, and Zechariah was chosen by lot (Lk 1:9). As thrilling as the call must have been, the best part was still waiting within the temple walls.
Zechariah became the first man in five hundred years to see an angel. Coincidentally, the last was Zechariah the prophet of Old Testament fame. More importantly, though, Zechariah the priest would become the first man in four hundred years to hear from God.
The previous four centuries were a dark time for Israel. As the people slowly fell into disobedience, apostasy, sin, and self-righteousness, God remained silent. He didn’t send any prophets, preachers, or angels. After he last spoke through Malachi, he hung up the phone and didn’t call back until he was ready to raise up John the Baptist, who would, in turn, make ready for the Lord a prepared people (Lk 1:17).
Zechariah’s name means Yahweh has remembered. In this case, God remembered, so to speak, one of his final promises to Israel before going mute. Through Malachi, he said, “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal 3:1). Just as ancient kings of the Near East would send messengers to foreign nations prior to visiting, God sent John the Baptist, the miraculous son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, to turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God just before the Lord personally arrived in the flesh (Lk 1:16).
The darkness was ending. The sun of righteousness was rising (Mal 4:2). The Messiah was coming to take away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). But first, God would send a final prophet to boldly proclaim the Savior’s imminent arrival. And before that, he announced this prophet’s birth to his unsuspecting father, Zechariah.
It makes sense for Luke to begin his Gospel with this story. John the Baptist is the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments. He is the last prophet of the Old and Christ’s forerunner in the New. His birth signifies a pivotal transition in human history. The one and only Son, who is himself God, would soon become flesh and dwell among us (Jn 1:18, 14).
And why should the advent of Jesus￼ excite us? Because he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).