Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18)
In the first chapter of Luke, we see the angel Gabriel foretelling Zechariah that he and his wife, long barren, will have a son. It is a scene repeated often in Scripture: God intervening in the life of a faithful family to deliver unexpected and seemingly impossible blessings. Sarai… Rebekah…Rachel...Hannah. Seemingly just as repetitive is the disbelief that almost always accompanies such pronouncements. And so it is here: Zechariah, in a direct encounter with a celestial being, cannot put aside his doubt and embrace the joyful news that he has just received.
In this case, the son being promised would turn out to be John the Baptist, a forerunner of Jesus who would tell many of His coming, and whose own arrival was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5. This was no small event, and this pronouncement itself foreshadows a similar angelic visit that will be made to Mary just a few verses later.
Zechariah pays a price for his doubt, however. Gabriel informs him that because of his unbelief, Zechariah will be unable to speak until John’s birth. Imagine the excitement of Elizabeth when she realizes she is somehow pregnant after so many years, and being unable to participate with her. Imagine the guilt, shame, embarrassment, and frustration Zechariah must have felt for nine months!
I’ll ask a question I often ask when studying Scripture: how often do we see ourselves as this person? How often are we Zechariah? How often do we truly trust God for His promises to us? Many times, we don’t even need the hand of an angel to silence us; our excitement and enthusiasm for God is silenced by our own doubt and cynicism. In so doing, we miss out on the grandest opportunity of all: to participate with God in the work He is doing on earth.
Zechariah’s punishment of silence stands in stark contrast with what his promised son represented: a voice crying out, declaring the coming Messiah. As we enter the Advent season and begin our Christmas sermon series, let us together vow not to let doubt - or anything else - keep us from loudly and boldly proclaiming the good news. Christ has come! Emmanuel, God with us - there can be no greater news.