“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13a)
Advent is a season of longing. As we anticipate Christmas and the celebration of the coming of Christ, we are invited to long with Israel for the Messiah.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had lived with longing. This elderly couple had spent years hoping for children, only to find those hopes unfulfilled. This longing was not the kind of longing I have for a new PS4 (‘I really want one’), but the painful longing that twists up your insides and fills your pillows with tears. The longing of Zechariah and Elizabeth was the sort of longing poured out in years and years of prayer. And waiting. And longing. And weeping. Elizabeth desribes this as ‘her shame’ (v.25).
This couple longed for children and had waited upon the Lord past what would have seemed logical. Yet, these were not their only longings. Zechariah is described as a righteous priest, in a world where even the priesthood was filled with corruption. Needing to qualify a priest as ‘righteous’ would be like needing to qualify that your pastor was Christian. It shouldn’t be needed, but in Zechariah’s day, it was. As righteous people, they longed for the restoration of the priesthood, for the renewal of God’s people and for his glory to return to Israel. They longed for the Messiah, God’s chosen one, to come. They longed, they prayed, they waited.
Then, when the time for child-bearing had come and gone and hoping looked more like wishful thinking, Zechariah is visited by an angel. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” Elizabeth will have a child who will be part of God’s grand purpose of redemption. At first blush, it would appear that the prayer that was heard was simply the prayer for a child, but I think the answer is bigger. This improbable child, John, would herald the coming of the Lord, he would prepare the people for the Lord’s coming. Not only a child, but also every longing of their heart was being fulfilled. Not only the one prayer, but also all their prayers had been heard.
Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.
Advent is a time of longing, of waiting with Israel for the coming of Christ. But Advent is also a time of promises, where we are invited to sit with Zechariah and Elizabeth and hear the words of the angel. Our prayers have been heard, God is coming to deliver. Prepare for his coming.