Zechariah was a priest in Judea during a time of Roman occupation. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were called righteous and blameless in God’s sight (Luke 1:6). And yet, they were very old and still childless.
One day while Zechariah is serving as priest, an angel appears to him and says that Elizabeth will become pregnant with a son who will be called John. The angel declares that this boy will prepare the way for the Messiah! Zechariah's response to the angel is as human as it gets,
“…how can I be sure?” (1:18).
Because of Zechariah’s unbelief, he is made unable to speak until all the angel has proclaimed occurs.
After this encounter, Elizabeth becomes pregnant and later gives birth to a baby boy, just as foretold. When John is 8 days old, he is to be named and circumcised, as was the custom. On that day, Elizabeth declares that her son will be called John – and much like what we still often see today, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s loved ones hold different opinions about what the newborn’s name should be. Nevertheless, Zechariah writes on a tablet, “His name is John,” and immediately his speech returns – and he begins to praise God. Then he sings his prophetic song.
“…Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…” (1:68)
I’ve always loved this story because of my own story with infertility. When hope for a child of our own seemed lost, I became pregnant and Cadence was born in the middle of Advent 2015. This passage was fresh in our minds as we awaited our miracle and prepared our hearts to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Our hearts were swollen with gratitude for our miracle and with hope for the future. I shared in the hope that Zechariah had for his child when he sang this song. I hoped my daughter would live a life that would be a procession for Jesus, making a way for people to know of his forgiveness, salvation, love and mercy. We prayed this song over her and even chose her name with this in mind.
I remember the hope and excitement we felt in December 2015 when we welcomed our precious and prayed-for little one. But, four years later, I hold this passage differently – because, honestly, 2019 has been a season marked by suffering and grief.
Now, what I notice the most is that the first thing Zechariah does in this song is praise God. He’s not praising God for his long-awaited child, but for sending the Messiah to save his people. In his silence, Zechariah sat in hope for his expectant child, but even more, in the hope of his nation. The Promised One who would save and redeem his people from the hands of those who oppress and hate them is finally coming! The promise that the people of Israel, and all creation really, had been waiting for over hundreds of years is coming! God had not forgotten them.
This is what grips me. God has not forgotten me. He has not been deaf to my cries or blind to my tears. He has seen my suffering and the suffering of the world. He has sent Jesus to rescue, restore, and redeem. Though life is full of suffering, the savior has come and he will come again. And when I choose to behold Jesus, the greatest gift, that gift in turn holds me.