This week something in Luke's account of the Christmas story surprised me. Luke explains that he has carefully investigated everything from the beginning, and then he begins his account with John the Baptist. He doesn't begin with Gabriel's message to Mary, but with Gabriel's message to Zechariah.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are childless--barren and beyond the age and ability of conception. They have given up hope. To be barren in their culture was a disgrace. Why were they barren? Why had children been denied to them? They were of priestly lines and were upright in the sight of God. They followed the rules, the regulations; they kept God's commandments. And yet the line of Zechariah was about to disappear because there was no son.
How often did Elizabeth mourn? How often did she look at other young women's rounded bellies and nursing babies and chubby toddlers with an ache so large in her throat she thought she would choke? How often had Zechariah questioned his devotion to the Most High as each month, each year brought no children? Their longings and sighings were not hidden from God (Psalm 38:9). He heard them. Zechariah and Elizabeth couldn't see what God had planned for them.
Zechariah went to the temple for his priestly service. This was not an annual event. It is possible (because of the size of the priestly clans) that this was the only time he had to report to the temple for this type of duty. He was chosen by lot. Someone threw the dice and he was chosen. Proverbs 16:33 says, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. This was no coincidence that Zechariah was chosen. The decision came from the Lord, and his orchestration was on the move.
Gabriel announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a child. Zechariah's old doubt and loss of hope caused him to question the validity of the angel's message. He would now be mute until the child was born.
Elizabeth conceived and was child. They didn't need an ultrasound--they would have a baby boy and name him John. Elizabeth secluded herself (I think to enjoy this incredible, impossible miracle).
Then she had an unexpected visitor. Her younger cousin Mary arrived in her courtyard. And John, within the walls of his mother's womb, recognized Jesus and leaped for joy. The cousins are connected before they are ever born.
John arrived. Zechariah holds this longed-for child-a son given in his old age. Did he feel a bit like Abraham? There must have been tears in his cloudy eyes, and his hands trembled. Awe filled and renewed his spirit.
And then he talked to his son. Old Zechariah prophesied in the power and filling of the Holy Spirit. He declared that John will be a prophet of the Most High, and he will give his people the knowledge of salvation.
John was sent by God to.pave and prepare the way for his Son. John and Jesus' lives ran parallel and then converged when Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism. John was sent to prepare the way. John laid the groundwork, staked out the building lines. John was the one shouting in the wilderness.
John is Advent. John came as a prophet of the Most High preparing the way for Jesus, the Son of the Most High (Luke 1 :32). John came explaining and giving others the knowledge of salvation and the hope of forgiveness for their sins. Jesus is the fulfillment of John's message.
God made Zechariah and Elizabeth wait. They were being prepared in the wings. Carefully he heard and held their longings and sighings until the fullness of time. They didn't know his plan included John. I believe their waiting was rewarded and their longings completely satisfied.
During this Advent may the sweet spirit of John come and prepare us for Jesus.