Luke 1:8-20

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.

Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Luke 1:8-20

Psalm 141 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” These are beautiful images. If you have never been in a worship experience that includes the use of incense, you are missing something. To see the curls of smoke carrying prayers to God. To be enveloped in the smells that fill the room. With that image in mind, join Zechariah in his encounter with Gabriel.

Zechariah isn’t alone. He emerges from a crowd of people, all there to pray. And, while Zechariah is there as a worship leader, his prayer is very personal. He prays for a son. All of those gathered pray for their personal needs. Their desires join with the prayers of everyone else and it becomes a chorus. Zechariah’s prayers will soon be answered.

The Greek word for “angel” literally means “messenger.” When angels appear in the Bible, they are not the cute little porcelain figurines your grandma had on a side table. They are big, powerful, and not to be trifled with. No wonder Zechariah was afraid when Gabriel showed up. He won’t be the last one whom Gabriel causes to be afraid.

Like angels, fear carries powerful messages into our lives. Fear is our reaction to potential calamity. Fear is a self-protective emotion. Fear is a good thing. But, like all good things, there is a dark side to fear. In the wrong hangs, fear can be used to manipulate us in powerfully destructive ways.

While Gabriel’s presence evokes fear, his message invites joy and gratitude. Zechariah and Elizabeth are to have a son. A special son. One like Elijah who will bring good news to God’s people. But was it all too good to be true? Could it even be possible?

It seems harsh that Gabriel would punish Zechariah with silence. But we get the idea. There is tension in expectation. Even when our fears are quieted, they don’t completely go away. They simmer. Zechariah’s fear/joy would simmer in silence. God was up to something good.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, rekindle our trust in the power of prayer. May we, like the crowd from which Zechariah emerged, join our prayers in a chorus of praise and supplication to you. And may we always be open to the messages that you send to us, even contemplating them in silence as they grow within us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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