Christmas Characters: Zechariah & Elizabeth
By Bryan Crotts
I wonder what Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors thought of them? Was their house tidy? Did she plant seasonal flowers in the front porch pots? Did Zechariah get the trash out to the street on time? Did they get up their leaves before they blew into their neighbor’s yard? These things we don’t know, however, Luke (chapters 1-2) tells us in his Gospel about their spiritual habits.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were people of faith. Trusting in God for his promise of a Messiah, the same promised to Adam & Eve (Genesis 3), they were righteous before the Lord. While many around them had turned from God to idols, they kept their hearts tuned to His promise of a Redeemer. This aging couple walked before the Lord blamelessly, as did Enoch (Genesis 5 & Hebrews 11), keeping all that the Lord commanded in his statutes to Israel. They were also praying people, daily giving to God their desires for His will to be accomplished in their lives. They lived a life of normal kingdom business, marked by simple, daily, ongoing faith and obedience.
We do know one thing their neighbors took notice of in their lives: they were childless. Elizabeth was up in age, past child-bearing years, and the verdict of being barren had long been a reality in her life. Childlessness kept them from what we would call “social security.” No children meant no one to care for them in their old age, which seemed to be right around the corner. This was their chief prayer request, their joint cross to bear, as no doubt people talked about them. It was known, public, and considered a reproach to be a couple without children. They would have no heritage after their deaths.
Something else was considered a reproach in their day. Israel was now centuries without a Davidic king on the throne. Occupying nations had been their lot for centuries. Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans ruled their land. Once a great God-fearing nation, at its height under David and Solomon, the city of God and Judea was no longer the magnificent place it had been. Hopes in the promised Messiah had flickered to only a remnant believing that God would send a Ruler someday (Isaiah 9).
Zechariah’s name means Jehovah has remembered. God does not forget! He remembered “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:71-75) Elizabeth’s name means my God is my oath. As surely as God made promises to Israel, as well as to this holy couple, he was about to keep them! Their faith in God and prayers daily offered were not in vain.
Every year, priests as Zechariah would spend several weeks at Jerusalem serving in the temple. This central place of worship for God’s people brought them into right relationship with Him through sacrifices. One of Zechariah’s duties on this particular tour of duty was to go into the temple and offer incense. How appropriate that he would offer this rite to the Lord, just as his daily prayers were a sort of aroma rising to God, at the time the messenger of God would come to tell him that his offerings had reached God’s attention.
In this evening temple service of praise, his task was simple and special. He would enter the temple and burn incense. After this, he would come out and give the ancient blessing (Numbers 6) to the waiting worshippers. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Something delayed his exit of the temple to give the blessing. The Angel Gabriel had been sent to him for a meeting at the altar. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” From this couple’s prayers and God’s faithfulness would come John the Baptist. He would be the forerunner of Messiah, preparing the way (or the hearts) of Israel for the coming of their King.
As they held their little one, the prophet of the Most High, they must have really settled it in their hearts that God is not forgetful or slow in keeping his word (2 Peter 3:9). We should learn from this special Christmas couple: Don’t grow weary in waiting on God’s perfect timing. Press on in daily work, keep the faith, and pray without ceasing. A life of normal kingdom business is often the way of His people until he breaks in with answers and blessings.