There are stories in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of people who waited for years to become parents. Standing on the threshold between the Old and New Testaments, Elizabeth and Zechariah longed for years to be blessed with a child. They may even have given up hope. When the news came that they were to have a son, it was so surprising, it rendered Zechariah speechless.
We know this baby was John the Baptist. He plays an important role in the New Testament. In fact, even before he was born, John recognizes the unborn Jesus for us.
This story is based on Luke 1:5-25. It is a wonderful piece of scripture, which always got me trying to “read between the lines.” For anyone who has ever longed for a baby, ever experienced the excitement of learning of a child to come, or realized that this big news is both daunting, perplexing and exciting, all at the same time, you may have also wished the scripture told us a little more. I did, and you can read that right here! Enjoy!
This story is from Meeting Jesus Through the Jesse Tree, Stories and Activities for Advent.
Elizabeth looked up, startled at Zechariah’s noisy entrance. He was usually a calm, orderly man. But there he stood, hair disheveled, hands trembling. His eyes had an almost glazed look. “What is it? What happened?” she asked, hurrying to his side.
Zechariah shook his head. He opened his mouth and then closed it again. Holding his hands out in an open gesture, he looked up as if in prayer. He seemed both frustrated and excited.
“What is it? Zechariah, don’t keep me in suspense!” Elizabeth pleaded. She took hold of both of his hands and gazed steadily into his eyes. She had never seen her husband so agitated and she and Zechariah had been together for a long time. “What is it, dear?” she asked again, trying to keep her voice level. “Has something happened at the temple?”
“Can you tell me?”
He shook his head, pointing to his throat and shaking his head again.
“Does your throat hurt? Did you eat something that has harmed you—oh, has someone tried to hurt you?”
This time he shook his head vigorously. Then, calmer, he put both of his weathered hands on her cheeks. She could only look at him quizzically. He smiled upon her with love, stroked her cheek, and pointed to her abdomen. She backed away and looked down at her body, then back at Zechariah.
“I don’t understand. Why don’t you speak? You have never been at a loss for words!”
Zechariah gave a noiseless laugh.
This alarmed Elizabeth greatly. “What is wrong with your voice?” she demanded. He was frustrated now and looked around. Frowning, he turned and reached for the writing tablet.
“You really cannot talk,” Elizabeth breathed, bringing her clasped hands to her mouth.
Zechariah sat down and began to draw. Elizabeth stood at his shoulder. As she watched, her eyes widened and she trembled. On the tablet he had drawn an angel.
“You saw an angel, Zechariah?” Her voice was a whisper.
He nodded quickly.
“Were you alone?”
Another nod. He made a simple drawing of a temple and an incense burner.
“You were alone in the sanctuary. It was your time to burn incense?”
Another nod. Then he drew a baby, and pointed to her.
Elizabeth frowned. “How I wish I could read!” she lamented.
Zechariah tapped the drawing of the angel, then the baby, and then tapped Elizabeth’s abdomen.
“Oh, I want to understand!” Elizabeth wailed.
Zechariah repeated his tapping.
“Angel…baby…me,” Elizabeth said.
Then she gasped.
“Baby…me? An angel told you I will have a baby?” She spoke as if the words were fragile.
Zechariah leaped up, nodding, and threw his arms around her. They twirled together, two people too old to have a baby.
When they stopped, Elizabeth gasped a bit and exclaimed, “A baby! We’ve waited so long. We’ve prayed so hard. The humiliation we have suffered! But a baby, me, Zechariah?”
He laughed his soundless laugh and pointed to himself.
“Oh yes, you and I, Zechariah, at our age, at long last, a baby!” She clasped her hands and fell silent, in a prayer of gratitude. Zechariah stood with her. Then she turned to him. “Did the angel say if the baby is a boy or a girl?”
“Boy?” Another nod. “A boy,” she said, savoring the sound. “A child, oh Zechariah, we are truly blessed! He must be a very special child, that an angel of God came to tell you about him!”
Zechariah nodded vigorously.
“We must name him Zechariah.” He shook his head. “Why not? Do you want to use your father’s name?”
His answer was a strong shaking of his head, and he pointed to the angel on the tablet. For a moment, Elizabeth puzzled. Then slowly she said, “The angel gave you a name too?” A smile and a nod. “What is it?”
Zechariah looked anguished. He could not tell her and Elizabeth could not read. “You know, but you have no way of telling me?”
He smiled sadly. She sighed. Then she looked up at him. “And why can’t you talk?” He shrugged, and tapped the angel drawing.
“Something with the angel,” she mused. Then alarm rose in her voice. “Zechariah, will you always be speechless? Will our child have a silent father?”
He smiled and shook his head. She smiled back, relieved.
“Well, this certainly is the most astounding day. A baby! A son! And you’ve been visited by an angel! And you, silent for a time! Why you are, I don’t know,” she pondered. “Oh, Zechariah, the Lord has looked upon us this day! Imagine, me, an old woman to carry life!”
He looked at her, his eyes full of love. Then they laughed, and he threw his arms around her. They laughed and cried and laughed again.