Luke 1:8-17 (NIV) Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah had been praying for a son for many long years, but he didn’t understand that God was planning something special for Him and Elizabeth. Now that the time had come, God was going to tell him that his prayers had always been heard, and were now going to be answered. So He arranged for Zechariah’s name to be drawn by lot to burn incense in the temple. For that task, he would be alone in the holy place and focused on God, so He could send His angel and find the man in a very receptive state.
Offering incense in the temple was a rare opportunity. Some priests never got their name chosen their whole life. So Zechariah was thrilled to actually get the chance to enter the temple and do this task for God. Immediately after he put the incense on the hot coals, producing a fragrant cloud of thick smoke, Gabriel, God’s chosen messenger appeared to him. Needless to say, Zechariah was startled at the sight, and instinctively jumped back. But before he could turn and run out of the temple, Gabriel delivered his divine pronouncement.
First of all, he reassured Zechariah that his prayers had not only been heard, but were finally being answered. Elizabeth would give birth to a son, even at her advanced age, and Zechariah was to give him the name John. John was to be a man devoted to God for a special purpose, even from birth. As such, he was never to drink anything fermented. Instead, God would fill him with the Holy Spirit his whole life, even before he was born, something that He had never done for anyone before.
Then Gabriel dropped the real bombshell: John would be the one who would go out in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah Himself, fulfilling Malachi 4:5-6. Zechariah, like many of the people of that day, was waiting expectantly for the Messiah to appear, and now here was a mighty angel of God telling him not only that the Messiah was on His way, but that his own soon-to-be-conceived son would be the Messiah’s forerunner! It was almost more than he could comprehend.
Father, it is interesting to think that Zechariah had prayed so long for this one heart’s desire that he had fallen into habit, and was shocked when he heard that you actually were answering him. And what an answer! So much more than he ever could have imagined. Help me to be both steadfast and faithful in my prayers, so that I always bring them in a state of expectant anticipation until I see Your answer. Amen.