- Sr Siobhán
While Elizabeth cooks dinner, an angel visits Zechariah
Monday Week Four
Reading: Luke 1:5-25
In the days of King Herod of Judea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.
Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside praying.
Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, ‘
Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had received a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them and remained dumb.
When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said, ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’
Yesterday’s reflection closed with a promise of God’s faithfulness to all whose lives are holy. Once more, the generosity of God comes to pass while people are attending to their everyday affairs. Zechariah honours the Lord with incense in the sanctuary of the temple while the community pray outside. Elizabeth is at home preparing the simple meal that she will share with her husband of many years. Suddenly, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and promises him the parenthood that has always eluded himself and Elizabeth. They will be partakers in God’s divine plan for the world. Their son John, infused from birth with the Holy Spirit will fill their hearts with delight. His divine mission will call people back to the ways of the Lord as he prepares the way of the Messiah. Zechariah, fully human, is overcome with what is being said to him and questions the angel. Gabriel stays true to his mission and renders Zechariah’s dumb because of his lack of belief in his message. This same angel would later appear to Mary and invite her to co-operate with God’s promise of salvation for the world. Her response was an immediate, total FIAT.
One can imagine the people outside the temple getting restless because Zechariah has not come out of temple. The must have looked on in initial disbelief when he appears and is unable to speak. Inspired with the Holy Spirit they realise that he has had an encounter with the divine and leave to reflect on all that has happened.
Dinner was silent in Zechariah’s home that evening. In the fulness of time, Elizabeth conceived and gave birth. She unlike the millions of women who have suffered the pain of barrenness, now rejoices that a child nurses at her breast. She gives thanks for all that God in his mercy has done for her.
At this time of year, we pray in a special way for all whose dreams of parenthood never comes to pass. May they receive the grace and comfort that they need. May their lives bear fruit for the kingdom of God in the way God has chosen for them.