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Zechariah's Hope

December 02, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert


+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation comes from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Luke records Gabriel’s response to Zechariah’s disbelief, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

This is the only portion of Scripture where we hear anything about this Zechariah, and yet, if this single chapter is representative of his life, we learn how his life was rife with irony. As a priest, Zechariah made his living with his voice. His vocation was to bless, to pray, to teach. And yet, before our text is done, the poor guy can only stand there, voiceless in the temple, unable even to finish his temple service with the customary blessing. Adding insult to injury, Zechariah was a descendant of the priestly family of Aaron, the brother of Moses—you know, the one who was reputed to “speak eloquently” on behalf of God’s servant? Yeah, Zechariah was descended from him, and now, this son of Aaron could not utter even a single word.

How’d we get to this point? We’ve got an angel – Gabriel, by name – who has come to him, proclaiming a seemingly unbelievable proclamation: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

How does Zechariah respond to this incredible announcement? “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” His response is quite similar to that of his forefather from many, many generations prior: at the promise of the birth of Isaac, we’re told Abraham practically rolled on the floor laughing, saying, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” and yet, Isaac was born not long after. This was not an isolated incident; it had happened to Isaac and Rebekah, with Jacob and Rachel, with Elkanah and Hannah. All these examples of God doing the impossible for His hurting people … but Zechariah seems to have forgotten all these. This priest had forgotten just how good God is, and with that lapse in recollection came doubt God’s word.

This doubtfulness is a bit unexpected, since both Zechariah and Elizabeth are described as “righteous before God” – that is, their hope was in the Lord and in His promise to act and send the Messiah. Zechariah prayed regularly for this. Yet when the Lord answered his prayer, he doubted the word of the angel and sought a sign. His offense was not in expecting too much from the Lord. It was in expecting too little.

Our God is generous. He gives us exceedingly great and precious promises. He invites us to ask and has promised to answer. He gives us more than we either desire or deserve. He is exceedingly generous. That’s who He is. But we, like Zechariah, so easily forget that. We don’t expect much from Him. That’s who we are.

You, like Zechariah, are priests who easily forget. God’s indescribable goodness has made you His royal priests through Holy Baptism. God, in mercy, has chosen you as His own possession; He has set apart your mouth to do priestly work—praying, teaching, proclaiming His goodness. You have every reason to be bold and confident in your prayers. But instead, you’ve doubted this and have thought, “What good will my prayers do?” I can say that confidently, because I know that I have done it too. We have every reason to be confident in the Lord and His directing of our lives, but we’ve doubted that He knows what He’s doing. We have every reason to live with joy in all circumstances, knowing that we are beggars who have been granted a kingdom; yet we live and think and pray like God is stingy and disinclined to acquiesce to our supplications. You are royal priests of the King of kings. But you insult the King by not expecting much. We often ask as people of little faith. We are like Zechariah, forgetting so easily God’s fatherly goodness.

But God does not forget. God remembers. He does not forget His promises, and He does not forget His priests. He remembered Zechariah’s prayer and acted. God gave Zechariah way more than he expected. Zechariah hoped for the Messiah, and God gave the Messiah within Zechariah’s own generation and extended family. Old Zechariah hoped he might father a child, and God gave him a great child—John, the forerunner of the Greater Child, God in the flesh. There is no better example of God remembering us and His promises than His sending the One to whom John pointed, the One who was the greatest and most faithful Priest ever. He would perfectly remember and trust the Father’s goodness in our place. He would always have a confident hope in God, even in the most hopeless situations. He would do all this so that His faithfulness might be credited to you in your baptism.

God has remembered us, and because of His remembering and honoring of His promises, we have a great high priest, as the Book of Hebrews says. And great He is. He used His voice mightily to bless, to pray, to instruct, and to gather sinners. He was the most faithful Priest, but He chose to be silent before His accusers and go to an unjust death in our place. He would be not only the most holy Priest but also the most holy Sacrifice offered – the Lamb of God sacrificed for you. The Lamb whose blood would atone for all your doubt and mistrust of God, for all your sin, and mine. He was the Greater Aaron, hanging on a cross with arms outstretched like a priest in prayer, uttering an eloquent absolution: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus never lost hope that His Father would raise Him from the dead, as promised. He is your eternal High Priest, seated at the right hand of God as your intercessor and advocate.

God remembered Zechariah and gave him a son to proclaim the Messiah. God remembers you in your need (especially your need for forgiveness) and He acts, providing it for you in Holy Absolution. He remembers your need for holiness and acts, providing it for you in Holy Baptism. He remembers your need for strength and courage to live under the cross with patience and joy and acts, providing it all for you in the Holy Supper. We ask Him to give us a little help in our trials, and He gives us a Kingdom. He may not remove the barrenness, or the illness, or the pain and suffering that we endure here, but we ask for help enduring the disease and pain and death, and He gives us the promise of full and complete healing in the resurrection on the Last Day.

At John’s birth, Zechariah’s voice would again be heard. But at another child’s birth soon thereafter, angels’ voices would be heard on earth. What Child Is This? Jesus Christ, the Savior, Zechariah’s hope, Elizabeth’s hope, John’s hope … and ours.

+ In the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 1:5-25