The large crowd suggests that it was early afternoon, but it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is what happened to Zechariah. The supreme moment of his Levitical service had arrived. The lot had fallen his way. The Privilege was finally his.
When word came that the duty was his, Zechariah no doubt saw his many years of service race by. He probably attempted to see if any other event in his priestly life matched this significant moment in time. It is doubtful he found any.
If only Elizabeth could have been there to watch.
As the moment approached for him to enter the Most Holy Place with the incense offering, the gathering of the pious and the pretentious began to swell. It was a festive time. The people in the crowd had left their shops and their fields and their homes to come for the evening time of sacrifice and prayer. It was a regular part of the daily routine of the Jews of Jerusalem. And Zechariah was the one on whom the Privilege had been bestowed. His task was to spread the incense over the altar in the Most Holy Place.
As he pulled away from the festive throng which had gathered to pray, and made his way toward the inside of the great temple, Zechariah no doubt was overcome with a surreal and awesome sensation. In his hands was the incense to be placed on the altar—incense that symbolized the collective piety of the Jewish people. The hope of righteous Zechariah, as well as all the watchful participants, was that Almighty God would accept favorably the sacrifice that would follow. The offering of the incense was preparatory to that event. It was the sign that the people of Israel were ready to meet with their God. Little did Zechariah realize how much at that moment Almighty God wanted to meet with him.
At least, not until it happened.
Luke’s depiction is rather simple and straightforward: an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Right next to the altar. Right beside where Zechariah was spreading the incense. And Zechariah was left absolutely terrified and confused.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel immediately offers. “Your prayers have been heard.” Zechariah, God has remembered you!
The significance of this must not be overlooked, for in Zechariah’s world names meant something significant. They defined the qualities, experiences, ambitions and anxieties of the families who gave them and the people who received them. That is why it was no small coincidence that Zechariah’s name meant “The Lord Remembers Again.”
The Lord remembered Zechariah.
And the Lord remembered the people this priest was about to represent.
“Elizabeth will have a boy. Call him John. And know that he will be a delight and a joy, for he will prepare the nation for the coming of God.”
The Lord remembered Zechariah. And the people. The natural question is, What did the Lord remember? What was it for which Zechariah prayed?
Very few, if any, could have been there for all of the intense moments in their long lives. In fact, it’s likely that no one had taken time to participate in the periods of solitude in which Zechariah and Elizabeth appealed to God for mercy. The times she begged God through tears to open her womb. The times he implored God to remedy the brokenness of this hurtful and seemingly empty world.
Give us a child, O holy Lord. Give us hope.
Grant our nation peace, O mighty God. Come and save us.
Day in and day out . . . for years. The humble petitions of a husband and a wife. A pious Jewish couple. A priest of Israel’s holy God. A pair with fewer years ahead than behind.
“Your prayer has been heard,” the angel said. God remembered.
And indeed God did. For in a moment’s time Zechariah heard the things his ears had always hoped to hear. Not only would his precious bride bear him a child—a son nonetheless—but also this little boy would grow to be a mighty servant of the Most High God. He would make a difference. Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a legacy beyond their years. And their humble son would prepare the hearts of a weary and oppressed nation—indeed the world—for the coming of Israel’s Hope.
Their prayers were answered.
Because God remembered.