Sunday, December 6, 2015
Advent Angels, Part 2,
It's a day I will remember as long as I live. My division, the descendents of Abijah, was on duty in the temple. That morning they drew two names to burn the incense in the inner temple. Because there are so many of us priests, they have to do it this way, and most of us die without ever having served In the inner temple. When they drew my name I just stood there in awe. Incense was burned before and after the daily sacrifices to purify the temple. My name was drawn for the morning burning.
I entered the inner temple, and stood before the altar for a few minutes, just taking it all in. Then, here, in the holiest place in all of the land God had given us, I prayed again for my wife. She was heartbroken and hurting because, in all our years of marriage she had never borne an child; and now, even though the two of us were far beyond the years of childbearing, she still grieved her barreness. I asked God simply to give her comfort and inner peace.
I turned around, lit the incense, and uttered the prayer: May the God of mercy enter the temple and be pleased to accept the sacrifice of his people.” Then it happened.
The incense seemed to almost explode, as a huge ball of the aromatic smoke appeard at the right side of the altar. and then, out of it he came. I don't know how to describe him. He was the most intimidating being I have ever seen. He was huge and had a face that seemed almost, but not quite human. I froze, and fell to the floor in fear. Had I just looked at the face of God? Was I about to die? I was so scared, I couldn't even tremble!
Then the thing spoke: “Don't be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you must name him John. His birth will make you very happy, and many people will be glad. Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born. John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. He will go ahead of the Lord with the same power and spirit that Elijah had. And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.”
In spite of the thing's instruction to not fear, now I was not only afraid, I was stunned,
what was this thing saying? Elizabeth can't have children, she's way beyond that part of her life, and so am I. Was this a vision from the Satan? Was I being tempted? I didn't know what to do, or say. I asked the thing how this could be. How could my wife and I have a child at our age?
Then the thing identified himself. “"I am Gabriel, God's servant, and I was sent to tell you this good news. But you have not believed my message, which will come true at the right time. Because you have not believed, you will be unable to speak; you will remain silent until the day my promise to you comes true." And at that very moment I was struck mute. Try as I might, I could not speak. The words my brain so carefully formed, would not come out of my mouth.
When I finally came out of the temple, people were asking me what happened? Why had I taked so long to burn the incense? Had I seen a vision? The more they asked, the more I couldn't speak, even if I could have described what happened.
When I got home, Elizabeth could tell something had happened. Again I tried to speak, to tell her about the visit from the angel, but, again, all that came out of my mouth was silence. But that angel was right. A couple of months later Elizabeth, almost in a state of shock, told me: “I know you won't believe me, but I think I am with child. Although I smiled, hugged her and kissed her, I could not speak to tell her: “Yes! I believe you! It's what the angel told me!
About 5 or 6 months later, we had a visit from Elizabeth's cousin, Mary. Mary told us that she, too, had been visited by the angel Gabriel; that she had been chosen by God; and that she was going to have a baby boy who would be the Messiah, the new David, the one whose birth all Israel awaited. Elizabeth leaped up and said in a loud voice, "You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” and Mary, took exalted and praised God. Later my wife told me that the child in her jumped for joy when Mary said she, too, was going to have a child from God. Mary stayed with us about three monhs, and then returned to her home, and her fiance', Joseph.
Shortly after Mary left, Elizabeth gave birth to a fine baby boy. The whole village rejoiced with us. And on the eighth day, when he was to be circumcised, they were ready to name him Zechariah, after me when Elizabeth insisted: “NO, his name is John.”
“But there is no John in your family.”
“His name is JOHN!” my wife repeated.
When they made signgs trying to ask me, I still couldn't speak, so I asked for a tablet and wrote on it: “The child's name is John.” At that minute, my speech returned, and I, of course, began praising God.
But from that same time, our neighbors treated us differently. They were always cautious around us, speaking and acting very carefully, as though they were afraid of us, or our son. As old as we were, parenting was not easy, but John grew up in body, mind, and spirit until the day he left us to go live in the desert. And no one heard from him until he came out of the desert preaching repentance and baptizing for the forgivness of sins. He even baptized Mary's son, Jesus, who invites you to the feast he has prepared. Come, celbrate, and give thanks. AMEN.