HOW CHRISTMAS BEGAN, 1

IT BEGAN WITH MY PRAYERS (Luke 1: 5-25; 56-80)

My name is Zechariah. It means, “The Lord has remembered me.” Indeed, He has heard my prayers. Among my people, it was disgraceful not to have children. No one would be around to take care of us when we no longer could function. It was particularly painful for my wife. In my world, only women were barren. They were guilty of not bearing children. It was believed that they must have done something that displeased the Lord. Being a priest, without a male heir, made my future look even bleaker. I belonged to a long and reputable line of priests. I dated back to Abijah and Aaron and so did my wife Elizabeth. We were God-fearing and law-abiding Levites. We tried to lead a blameless life before God and men. I was faithful to my priestly duties. And without a son, my chain link, in the priesthood, was about to end.

Due to our advanced ages, we had resigned ourselves to a childless fate. In spite of the odds, I kept on praying. But, I did not think that my prayers would matter very much? How wrong could I have been? Prayers always matter. They never cease to reach the throne of the Lord our God. When the lot fell on me to go to the Temple and burn incense, I still prevailed in doubt. And when an angel appeared, called my name and told me that my prayers have been heard, I was scared to death. And what Gabriel said was even more unbelievable. Elizabeth was going to bear me a son, to call him “John” and he will delight us. He will be like Elijah of old by preceding the Lord and leading the people back to God. He will love the outdoors and live under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And he will prepare the way of the “Chosen One” of God. I did not think I was hearing right. “How can this be at our age,” I asked?

Apparently, that was not the right question. It was obvious that I had displeased the messenger of God. He became firm and announced, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to you to bring you this good news. But since you did not believe my words you will be silent until the day my words come true.”

I do not know how long I lingered in the Temple. But when I emerged, I saw concern on the people’s faces. I tried to open my mouth, but nothing audible would come out. I motioned with my hands about some vision I had and that made no sense to the audience. I staggered home and into the arms of my beloved wife. Lo and behold, we were overcome with love and Elizabeth took on a youth-like look. She was indeed with child and there was anticipation and joy in our home – the kind we had never felt before. Our friends, neighbors and relatives came to wish us well. Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, we had a special visitor. Cousin Mary from Nazareth came to see Elizabeth and that elated my wife enormously. She was dabbling that Mary’s child was the Lord whom our child would serve. She called Mary the most blessed among women and the mother of her Lord. She was so excited that she composed an entire song of praise to God for delivering His people from bondage and sin. I, too, sensed God’s Spirit in our home, but I did not realize that I, too, was close to the Lord while He was in His mother’s womb. That was as close as I would ever come of meeting the Savior at my age. Even in His prenatal state, He was a blessing to my wife.

Elizabeth did deliver a healthy baby boy. I heard the boy cry but still I could not speak. On the eight day, the baby boy was circumcised and without my input, Elizabeth named him “John.” The relatives objected and argued that he should be named after me. There was a tradition that should not be broken. Then someone realized that I should have a say in the matter. I signed for a tabled and I wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly, my mouth opened and my tongue began to release praises to God. Everybody was stunned. The whole hill country of Judea shared the news of our miracle. People marveled and wondered what it all meant. It was very apparent that our son was under the umbrella of God’s Spirit. Of course, I knew what he was going to be. Gabriel had told me what his mission would be. To share Gabriel’s message with the people did not have made much sense, just as it did not to me when I first heard it.

In the eyes of my fellow men, disgrace had been lifted from my family. We, too, had a son but he would not be my successor. He would not become a priest and serve incense on the altar of the Temple. Instead, he would tramp off into the desert and stay clear of other humans, so that he will remain holy in order to welcome the Lord of lords. He will have to keep his hands holy so that he can lay them upon the One who is to save us from our sins. Our son was born to point out the Chosen One to the people. Our John was to prepare a way for the Lord. He was to get the people ready for His coming. I, too, was filled with the Holy Spirit and words of joy and wonder proceeded out of my mouth. They were words about the Savior or Deliverer who would free our people from sin and restore our covenant with God of old and return our nation to holiness and righteousness. Our son would be the Redeemer’s prophet, the highest rank among all prophets. Probably, Elizabeth and I will not be present when our son meets the Messiah or how his life will be structured? I am confident, however, that God has things in His hand and He will let me see in glory the completion of His plan. And that too will be an answer to my prayers.