Imagine that you are a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. You are called to light the incense in God’s Holy Place – a task that seldom comes to you. An angel appears to you while you are in this most quiet and Holy Place, and you are frightened. The angel announces that your wife will conceive a child, even though she has long since passed the time when women conceive. You question the angel’s message, so the angel strikes you dumb for you failed to believe God’s messenger. After your time of service is completed, you return home to your wife Elizabeth. She does become pregnant, just as the angel said. You are amazed and puzzled that after all these years, there would be a child – surely you and your wife are too old. Could you have really seen an angel? Could what you remember of an angel’s message be true?
Often during sleepless nights, you ask God’s forgiveness for your unbelief and thank Him for His wonderful gift of a child. You spend most days and sometimes late into the night at the local synagogue studying the scrolls of the Torah. The angel said that your son would be a forerunner for the Messiah. Your people have waited for the Messiah for centuries. You live as in a dream – God is preparing to visit His people. Who are you that the Most High God has chosen your son to be born to announce to the world that His Messiah has come?
Then far into your wife’s unexpected pregnancy, a visitor comes. You are told that the visitor is your wife’s young cousin Mary from Nazareth, who has come to help your wife in these last difficult months of her pregnancy. Tearing yourself away from your studies, you return home. You want to thank Mary for her kindness in coming to help Elizabeth. As you come into Mary’s presence, what do you sense? There is a look about Mary. There always has been. She is a kind and generous young woman. But she has always had about her a seriousness, a sense of purpose, a dignity beyond her years. But now, something about Mary is different. Do you feel within your soul that you are in the presence of God? Do you have the same intuition as your wife had when she heard Mary’s voice, when your soon to be born son leaped for joy in her womb? You are a man of deep thoughts and an intense love of God. Would you know that you are in His Presence? Does Mary or Elizabeth tell you the news – Mary carries within her womb the Messiah, the Son of God? What are your thoughts at her news? Do you disbelieve her as you did the angel who announced Elizabeth’s pregnancy? Or have you learned enough, thought enough, prayed enough to know that God is doing wondrous things, and He has given you a small part to play in the drama. Do you fall on your knees as you behold Mary? Do you reach out to touch the Son of God growing within her? Can you still breathe?
In Zechariah’s canticle – the first two lines – we find these words:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Was this Luke’s reflection on what he knew had happened or were they Zechariah’s words, for he knew from Mary that the Messiah was developing as an infant in her womb? Does it matter if it is Luke’s reflection or Zechariah?
August 5, 2013
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
Today while reading the Morning Prayer, it occurred to me that Zechariah knew what the promise was – not necessarily a return of a Davidic kingdom, but a place and a time where the chosen people could worship God freely. Yes, they would be free from the hands of enemies, but being able to worship God freely would allow them to be holy and righteous in the sight of God. Perhaps he saw that as the promise of the Covenant.