When will the long awaited one come? It was the question in everyone’s minds and on everyone’s tongue.
Zachary stood in the temple to perform the incense offering. The question came to his mind as well, only to meld into thoughts of his wife, Elizabeth.
For so long, we have waited for a child to come to us and none has come. Elizabeth…My beloved Elizabeth.
But it is too late for us now. We are both too advanced in years. When the long awaited one arrives, he will not spring from my seed and Elizabeth’s womb.
His heart ached at such thoughts.
We have served Thee with love and faithfulness. Why hast Thou left us childless and barren?
Why hast Thou forsaken us?
He bowed his gray head.
Elizabeth bore her grief well, but it was always present.
He longed to lift that grief from her, but he could not.
Only God could.
He knew that and believed it whole.
Lord, Lord. Hear my prayer. The prayer for my wife. The prayer for my people.
A beautiful light filled the room. One far lovelier than the fairest sunrise and more fragrant than the most potent myrrh.
Zachary raised his head to see a young man made out of light. His hair was as gold-thread. His eyes blue as a morning sky. And there was no fault or ugliness in him.
Yet, Zachary was troubled. It is surely an angel of the Lord. He knelt and bowed his head. But why has he come to me? What have I done?
The angel spoke and it was like a new mother’s lullaby and it was like fresh air. And it was like the coming dawn. “Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard.”
He raised his head and gazed at Heaven’s messenger in wonder. “My prayer?”
“Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son and thou shalt call his name John.”
He sat back on his feet. I shall have a son?
“Thou shalt have joy and gladness and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”
This is all too much. How can Elizabeth and I have a son? We’re both so far advanced in age. It isn’t possible. How could this be?
“And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.”
“This is a great thing you have spoken of, but I don’t…I…Whereby shall I know this? Behold, I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
A fearsome darkness passed the angel’s countenance.
Zachary doubled over in a cower.
“I am Gabriel, who stands before God. I am sent to speak to thee and to bring thee these good tidings. Behold! Thou shalt be dumb and shalt not be able to speak until the day wherein these things shall come to pass.”
“Dumb? Unable to speak? Why?”
“Because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their time.”
The angel disappeared. The sudden absence of his light made the room like deepest night.
Zachary raised his head and tried to speak.
But his words and his voice were gone.
For the following nine months, Zachary remained mute. His voice and his words were locked shut and tight. He communicated only by gestures and written words.
He watched his wife, his Elizabeth proceed through her pregnancy. Joy lived inside her breast. She smiled and laughed and rejoiced for, at long last, she carried life inside her womb. Her cousin Mary came and stayed to help her.
Even if he could have spoken, he knew not what he would have said. He wanted to shake his head in disbelief, but how could one disbelieve what is right before their eyes?
At last, her time had come and she gave birth to her son. And he was alive and well and perfect.
Zachary looked at his newborn child and wept from joy.
I have a son.
Elizabeth looked up at him with her eyes bright with joy and love. “I have a son. Blessed be God.”
The day for the child’s circumcision arrived.
Zachary, still mute, stood beside his wife. Their families stood in a cluster behind them.
The priest looked at Elizabeth. “What will be the child’s name?”
The priest frowned and the relatives muttered.
“He ought to be named after his father.” muttered one.
“It is the right thing to do.” said another.
“There are no John’s in the family.”
“His name will be John.” Elizabeth said firmly. There would be no changing her mind. So, the relatives gave up on her and turned to Zachary.
“You want him to be named after you, don’t you?”
“Of course, you do.”
“What is this John nonsense?”
“Why would she want to name him John of all things?”
Zachary looked at his wife, his Elizabeth, and their son. He smiled.
“Come, come, Zachary. Tell her that you won’t stand for this nonsense. And it is clearly nonsense.”
He gestured for something to write on.
The priest gave him a writing tablet.
Everyone fell silent as Zachary carefully sketched out his message.
The priest took the completed message and read out loud, “His name is John.”
In that moment, as the priest spoke, Zachary could feel his voice return.
He raised his hands to heaven and cried out with a great joy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because He hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people. And hath raised up a horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant. As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who are from the beginning.”
“Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us. To perform mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy testament the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, that he would grant us. That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear, in holiness and justice before Him all of our days.”
He took John from Elizabeth and, holding him tenderly in his arms, continued in a softer tone. “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest. For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways to give knowledge of salvation to His people, unto the remission of their sins.”
John yawned and fell asleep in his arms.
“Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us. To enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. To direct our feet into the way of peace.”