Advent demonstrates that God always keeps His promise, that He uses ordinary people to accomplish His purposes and that the Christmas story happened to real people like you and me.
The stage is set.
Suddenly an angel appears to Zacharias right in the midst of performing his priestly duties.
More than a year before the birth of Christ, Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord appears to Zacharias, the priest, in the Temple where he is fulfilling his priestly duties (Luke 1). Zacharias hears Gabriel’s shocking announcement that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son. Incredulous because of their advanced age Zacharias finds this hard to believe. He and Elizabeth are childless, past the childbearing years, and long ago gave up hope of ever having a son. Because he did not readily accept the angel’s announcement Zacharias was struck dumb, unable to speak until after the child was born when he spoke the child’s name as given to him by the angel. It was almost as if his immediate dumbness was in itself a confirmation of Gabriel’s announcement.
Angels appearing and supernatural pregnancies are a theme in this Advent story. While Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth are not the first characters in the Christmas story that come to mind, they both played significant roles in preparing for the Christ Child.
They are the couple through whom God chose to bring their son, John, onto the human stage and into the prophetic drama surrounding the birth of Christ. He is most familiarly known as John the Baptist. His birth was prophesied in Malachi 3:1. He would prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ and was affirmed by Him in Matthew 11:10. He baptized Jesus Luke 3:21. Jesus referred to John as a messenger sent ahead and said there was no one greater born of woman than John. He ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17. He called the people to repentance; he rebuked Herod for the illicit sexual relationship with his brother’s wife and consequently was imprisoned and subsequenty beheaded in retaliation for his bold, convicting judgment. When Jesus heard of John the Baptist’s murder he withdrew to a lonely place and mourned the loss of this prophet.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were a godly priestly couple who, no doubt, were steeped in the ancient scriptures and ways of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. They provided the perfect environment to nourish the young soul of John helping prepare him for his unique and somewhat unorthodox life style and ministry. He lived in the desert. He wore skins made of camel and ate locusts and honey. Was this what Elizabeth and Zacharias expected when they tenderly nurtured and delighted in their boy son? The scriptures do not tell us when they died. We don’t know if they were alive to witness all that transpired through their son and through their relative Mary, the mother of Christ.
Not only did Elizabeth give birth to John the Baptist, but God used her to comfort and nurture the young Mary who came to her immediately following Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Christ Child.Just prior to this, Gabriel used Elizabeth's amazing old age pregnancy to show Mary the power of God to do the impossible when she could not fathom how she a virgin could concieve.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zacharias for three months. Since Zacharias could not speak it was probably a huge encouragement for Elizabeth to have the companionship of Mary. One can only imagine their conversations and how this time nurtured Mary’s soul and prepared her for what was ahead.
These were ordinary people hand picked by God to be characters in the wider story and drama of history. They give voice to the way God calls and uses his children IF they are willing and surrendered to whatever and whenever God might choose to use them. I’m so grateful for these players in the Christmas story and for their lives that model acceptance of God's calling and a willingness to be used. May their lives speak to you as well these days just before Christmas.