READ: Luke 1:5-25
Today I got stopped in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In so many ways this is the story of an ordinary man and woman. Likely the story touches me so much because scripture says “…they were both well along in years.” A commentary I looked at suggests that this way of defining them means they were likely 60 years or older. Me too!
Zechariah was of the priestly tribe of Levi of the division of Abijah, the eighth division in a rotation of 24 divisions or groupings of priests. He and Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judah, south of Jerusalem. When the time came for the division of Abijah to serve, Zechariah went to Jerusalem to live at the temple until that time was completed. There were about 18,000 priests living in Israel at the time. Of that 18,000, 50 priests were on duty every day with about 300 priests serving over the course of a week. Each day lots were utilized to discern who was to serve in each of four different capacities. On this day, the lot fell to Zechariah to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. This duty shows that he was the ‘officiating’ priest of that day. Many commentaries indicate that this particular duty fell to a priest only once in his lifetime. The incense that Zechariah burned on the altar of incense within the Holy Place represented the prayers of the people. As he went in to place the incense on the altar, the people stood outside praying “May the merciful God enter the Holy Place and accept with favor the offering of His people.” (Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Jesuswalk.com)
Zechariah’s story goes on to detail an angelic visitation, the good news that “…your prayer has been heard.” And the prayer to be answered was that Elizabeth would bear him a son. Because of unbelief, Zechariah is struck dumb for the nine months that the child grows in Elizabeth’s womb. Only on the eighth day after John’s birth is Zechariah able to speak. His voice returns after he writes his belief to astonished observers “His name is John.” And when his voice awakens he fills the place with praise.
So much in this story stirs me. I’m in awe of God’s obvious and detailed planning for the coming of Jesus. I’m convicted and assured that God hears our prayers and doesn’t forget them. He stores them up to be answered in His time and for His purposes. There is no way that Zechariah went into the Holy Place praying for a son. That prayer was long done in him and Elizabeth. But God and His angel knew and remembered and “…your prayer has been heard.” I feel all of the prayers of all of the believers over all of time held in that moment. I intuitively know that God hears and God answers and that in Zechariah’s story all of creation paused pregnant with the soon to be born answer to our prayers.
John went into the Holy Place on behalf of the people of Israel. He received a very personal answer to a very personal prayer. But I think God was saying so much more in that answer. Your prayers are heard. The prayers of your people are heard. I see you; I regard you; I answer you. Believe!
Lord, open the fount of my prayers to You. Help me pray the old prayers, trusting that You hear and will answer in Your time in Your way. Help me to pray the new prayers, believing that You hear; You see; You care and You will answer. And open my mouth to fill this place with praise!