Zechariah and the Angel

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19 December 2017

It’s a cracking yarn.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, a Jewish couple, who were both ‘worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord’, longed for a child but had been unable to conceive. They were now ‘getting on in years’ and their dream of joy-filled parenthood had faded. Zechariah was from a priestly family. Elizabeth too had some background here, being a direct descendent of Aaron, the original priest, Moses’ right-hand man.

As part of the priestly tribe, Zechariah was called in to do a stint serving in the temple in Jerusalem.
That’s where it happened… the angel incident.

I travel in Europe occasionally and when visiting churches I find myself paying attention to the angels in the paintings that adorn these often beautiful buildings. It is not uncommon to see pudgy cherubs, with manifestly inadequate wings, sporting cheeky expressions on their faces. To be honest, I find them a bit ridiculous. The artists who painted them appear to have had no experience of angels.
What would Zechariah say?

He was in the sanctuary to burn incense, a solemn and sacred task, when a being the like of which he had never seen appeared, standing right next to the altar of incense. This extraordinary being told him something about his life which appeared impossible (that he and Elizabeth would have a baby) and when he raised a perfectly logical question about how this impossible thing could happen, he was told,

‘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.’

That is no chubby cherub speaking.

I have always felt Gabriel was a bit tough on Zechariah, but it does underline this point: Angels are immensely powerful beings who come from the presence of the most-high God. They deliver messages, revelations, healings and miracles from God to his people. You don’t want to mess with them. Of course, the real point of the story is to underline the miraculous origins of the one we know as ‘The Baptist’, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, John. As the angel announced, he was the one who was to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. Quite a fella, as we find out later.

As we get closer to the great feast of the Nativity, we will find that angels feature prominently in the miraculous events that unfold. I hope in remembering the good Zechariah, we retain a healthy respect for these amazing beings.

Just be grateful they are on our side!


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