He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. Luke 1:63-64 NIV
Advent Chronicles – Zechariah’s experience and doubt. Like many after him, Zechariah’s honest declaration of “how can this be?” opens a pathway for many to experience the Messiah. Let us enjoy Zechariah sharing his experience first hand with a friend.
I spoke for the first time in 294 days, when my mouth was opened and I said his name was to be John which as you know means God is gracious, merciful, and full of favor. Oh, Joseph, you are the first person that I get to tell the whole story of what happened to me in the temple that day.
As you know I am one of the 24 clans that go to the temple each year to perform the ritual duties of the sacrifice. We sacrifice the Tamid lamb twice a day, the lamb that represents a perpetual “standing” of our sacrifice before the presence of God. The smoke of the burning of that sacrifice rises as a column of smoke reminding of God’s abiding presence of the pillar of cloud that we followed in the desert with Moses.
The clan is divided again each day into four groups for the different functions of the daily sacrifice. The first lot is cast for the cleansing of the temple from the previous days’ sacrifice, like taking out the ashes. The second group cast lots to sacrifice the Tamid lamb and prepare it for the Altar as well as prepare the Temple. This preparation included cleansing the golden table of the Bread of Presence to the right, adding oil and trimming the wicks to the Golden Menorah on the left, and anointing the Altar of Incense that stood in front of the curtain of the Holy of Holies.
When the Holy Place was prepared we would meet in the Court of Priests for the recitation of our daily prayers and cast the third and forth lots. It was the afternoon when I was chosen for the third lot, being responsible to be the representative who would sprinkle the incense upon the Altar of Incense when the High Priest chose not to go. Only once in your lifetime is this even a possibility. I was chosen this day. The forth lot fell to those who would bring in the sacrificial body parts, the bread and the wine libations to the Altar of Burning.
As you know in the afternoon, the lighting of incense is the last event of the day after the other priests made their sacrifices. I would be left alone as the respectfully left so that I could pour the incense upon the Altar. I could hear the murmuring of prayers in the outer courts and smell the sacrifice upon the Altar of Burning, when suddenly a glowing man, an angel, appeared to my right. He came from the other side of the curtain, where the Holy of Holies is.
I don’t know how to describe him, except he was glowing. Perhaps it was similar to the way that Moses glowed after being within God’s presence. I really thought I was dead, but I could still hear my breathing and feel my heart pounding in my chest. I was not sure if I should run, bow down or just stand still. Though my legs felt weak, I found the strength to stand.
The man spoke, that Elizabeth and I had found favor and that God had heard my prayers. My embarrassment was quickly revealed. I was representing our nation on that day by asking God to forgive us of our sins. Yet, to be honest, I had also uttered the cry of our hearts for a child. God saw my brokenness for the shame and ridicule of my wife’s barrenness and my feelings of rejection of God’s favor. No one knew at that most intimate moment the rawness that I felt, except Yahweh. Then the angel appeared.
He told me that I would have a son and he would be like Elijah the prophet. Well you know my mind quickly went to Malachi’s prophecy 400 years earlier about the turning of the people back to God before the Messiah would come. It was like slow motion and fast thoughts all at the same time. It was just too hard to believe what happening.
My doubt was stronger than my question. “How can this be true? My wife and I are too old to have children.” His response felt like a trumpets blast from the ram horn, “I am Gabriel”. What? Gabriel!. You remember the prophet Daniel shared of his encounter with Gabriel revealing that the messiah, “the Ancient of Days” would come after the fourth kingdom. Joseph, we are living in the rule and reign of that forth kingdom since Daniel prophesied. “Gabriel”!!!! Oh my goodness. Messiah is coming.
Before I could say another word, Gabriel continued to speak, “because you doubted, you will be unable to speak until the child is born.” Immediately, I could not respond. The words were in my head, but I was unable to get them out of my mouth.
You know the last part of my responsibilities that day were to speak the blessing over those outside the temple. I was to declare that God’s favor should rest upon us. I came out looking dazed. They thought because I took so long, that maybe I had died. I waved my arms trying to describe the encounter, they only understood that I experienced some kind of vision.
BUT, I failed to complete my task that day. I was to speak the blessing of Yahweh over the people. I was to declare what God was saying. That blessing was delayed 294 days. Then the first words out of my mouth were “JOHN” – God’s is gracious.
Joseph, I am still trying to understand what all of this means. But I know this, God is moving once again in Israel. No longer is He silent. The angel said that this child is to prepare the good news of the coming Messiah.
Yahweh hears our deepest cries. He is good. He truly lets those that seek HIm, find him. Elizabeth and I are filled with joy even at this old age. WE have a Son. Whew! My lips will forever speak the praises of Yahweh.
“Joseph, do you believe my story? Do you think people can really encounter an angel of God and live to tell about it?”
Joseph answered respectfully, “Personally, I have never seen an Angel, BUT I did have one show up in a dream. He was very direct about Mary!”