To my beloved family and friends,
I have been remiss in not writing to you or even visiting with any of you for some months. Please forgive me. I have thought of you all often and lifted you up daily in my prayer, hoping that all was well with you.
This past year has been so full and so eventful – difficult, and yes, even wonderful all at the same time. As some of you may know, my husband Zechariah suffered an injury during his priestly rotation at the Jerusalem Temple earlier this year. To those who knew of the injury and offered up their prayers for Zechariah, thank you for your kindness. Our gracious and merciful God has heard your prayers, and Zechariah is now well again.
I was not at liberty to explain anything about Zechariah’s injury until now. What I am going to relate to you is a sign of the miraculous work of our faithful and loving God. It is a story that at times seems unbelievable, even to Zechariah and me who have lived it, yet I assure you that every word is true.
During Zechariah’s priestly rotation in the Jerusalem Temple, something which happened only twice each year, Zechariah was blessed to be chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and to offer the incense during the week of his priestly service. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord, who identified himself as the angel Gabriel, spoke to Zechariah.
The angel said:
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”
My beloved husband did not believe the angel’s promise at the time it was spoken. Both Zechariah and I are old, as you all know, and I am well past the time when a woman can conceive. Because of Zechariah’s unbelief in the angel’s words, Gabriel struck Zechariah dumb. Gabriel then told my husband that he would be unable to speak until the promised baby was born. Zechariah was instructed to name the promised child John.
Zechariah was in the sanctuary a long time after the angel’s visit and when he finally emerged, the people praying in the Temple believed that Zechariah had seen a vision. Not only could Zechariah not speak, but I am told that my husband’s appearance was both pale and visibly shaking after seeing the angel. Who wouldn’t be frightened by the heavenly visitor? We are taught that God’s messengers are both powerful and awesome to behold. When the days of Zechariah’s ministry were completed, my husband returned home to me.
I was worried when I first saw Zechariah. Never had I seen my husband so disturbed nor so physically fragile. I did what I could to comfort Zechariah, to assure him that all would be well. Somehow the two of us would find a way to live out what remained of our lives. When Zechariah was finally able to write down what had happened to him in the Lord’s sanctuary and gave me the angel Gabriel’s message, I was overjoyed at the news.
We have long desired to have a child, praying for the gift of new life every day, as all of you know. We have followed the Law of Moses to the best of our abilities and could not understand why God had not blessed us with a child. Now, thanks be to God, our dreams were to be fulfilled. We know in our hearts that we have been greatly blessed far beyond what any faithful servant of the Lord might expect.
Not many had days passed before I felt the first stirrings of new life inside of me. I had long dreamed of experiencing this wonder, this miracle, but there were times during the past months before the child’s birth when I was also afraid. Would I be able to give birth to the child given my advanced age? Would my child be healthy? How would I care for the child? Would my husband and I live long enough to raise our son? These and many more questions came to me at night, and yet there wasn’t a moment during the daytime when I didn’t lift up my thoughts to God to thank Him for his abundant blessings. I walked each day as if in a dream. The months of pregnancy became for me a time of joy and blessing. The sky was bluer, the flowers in my garden appeared more numerous and more beautiful than I had ever seen them. I lived each day in wonder and in expectation of the coming birth of our son.
I stayed away from you, dear family and friends, because I did not know what to say to all of you. How would I speak of the unbelievable blessings that were being given to my husband and me? I kept my silence for more than five months until that morning when I heard a familiar voice calling to me from the path leading up to our home. It was my beloved cousin, Mary, whom I had not seen in some time.
As most of you are aware, I often visited Jerusalem when my husband’s priestly division of Abijah was in service at the Temple. It was during those times that I came to know my cousin Mary. Though Mary was born and now still lives in Nazareth in Galilee, her parents had dedicated Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem while she was still a child. I was entranced even then by Mary’s simplicity, by her gentleness, her sweet smile and her singular devotion to God. During those years when I accompanied Zechariah to Jerusalem, I grew close to Mary, looked forward to my twice yearly visits and cherished the many moments I spent in Mary’s company.
When I heard Mary’s voice calling to me from the path, the growing child in my womb seemed to leap for joy. I knew in my heart at that moment that Mary not only knew of my pregnancy about which I had told no one, but that my cousin would be the fulfillment of the promise we all heard so long ago. God had finally come to His people to deliver them. Mary, my dear sweet cousin Mary, was carrying in her womb the long awaited Messiah! Praise be to our loving and faithful God who always fulfills His promises!
The months which followed were a time of double and even triple blessings as my child grew steadily inside of me. Mary was such a help to me during those final months. Bending over to put on my sandals was getting ever more difficult. Not only was I old, but the child growing rapidly inside of me made the task more impossible than even age had made it. Before I could ask for help, Mary had recognized the need and had appeared at my feet to tie my sandals. Nothing was too lowly or too tedious for Mary to do. She was at my side constantly, encouraging me, strengthening me, helping me. Mary walked daily in the garden with me, enjoying the beauty of the flowers and plants which grew there. We talked often of our love of our God and the graciousness of His heart and of the promises that had been made to both of us.
During the quiet, warm afternoons that I spent sitting, often dozing in my garden, Mary would sing to me a song she had composed. The song gave me great comfort. I know that you will be blessed by her words as I was:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
And Holy is His Name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones,
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our father,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Finally the moment I had been waiting for all of my life arrived. The pains came fierce and strong, but before I knew it, my beautiful son was born. As the angel had instructed Zechariah, we named our son John. When Zechariah gave his consent to the naming of our son over the disagreement of friends and family who were present, instantly my husband’s lips were opened and after so many months, I once more heard Zechariah’s voice. Praise be to our God who has once again fulfilled His promise!
The child, John, born to us is strong and healthy. Anyone who hears John crying for his feeding can attest to that. As the angel Gabriel predicted in the sanctuary of the Temple, I am certain that John will go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah and will bring many back to our God.
A short time after the birth of John, my cousin Mary took her leave of us. The child growing in Mary’s womb was beginning to show. Mary’s husband Joseph was eagerly awaiting her return, and there are preparations that need to be made for the child’s birth.
I was so saddened to see Mary leave, as she has been such a comfort to me. I know that our faithful God will continue to bless and lead Mary as He has done all of her life. Whatever the years which remain for Zechariah and myself, I am certain that God will lead us as well and that we will end our days knowing that our faithful God is always with us.
Shalom dear family and friends,