I’m an old preacher now; I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen the panic in an obstetrician’s eyes as he rushed past me into the delivery room, forceps in hand, and said to me, “PRAY!” I’ve performed a wedding that included a bomb threat and I’ve buried a young man killed in a drunk driving accident and watched his “friends” load the casket with beer after the service. I’ve done a funeral service with 4 attendees – including me and the funeral director. My life has been threatened and I’ve watched a family have a fist fight in the church yard. Not much surprises me anymore; I’ve seen a lot.
So, I suspect, had Zechariah. He’s an old priest who’s officiated lots of religious feasts. He’s spent a lifetime instructing Israelites on the Law of God, and helping them offer the sacrifices required whenever they ran afoul of that Law. Since priests served as the judges in Israel, Zechariah’s settled the disputes and arguments brought before him. Zechariah probably thinks he’s seen it all.
The grizzled old priest never thought he would be chosen to burn the incense in the temple. Most priests served without ever being selected, and Zechariah was approaching retirement. But this year, he was chosen.
While Zechariah was in the temple burning the incense, an angel appeared at the right side of the altar. The right side was considered to be the side of good news. It’s a good thing Gabriel wasn’t standing on the left; it probably would have been more surprise than Zechariah’s old heart would take. As it was, the Bible records that “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John” (Luke 1:12-13)
Zechariah can’t believe it. He never thought he’d be chosen by lot to burn the incense. Priests don’t routinely talk to angels. Old men married to old women don’t produce babies. “How can I be sure of this?” Zechariah asked, since “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18, NIV).
Gabriel doesn’t like having his word questioned. You can almost see him rear back and spit out the words as he says, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Zechariah spent (at least!) the next 9 months in silence, unable to speak or even hear (see Luke 1:62). He had plenty of time to reflect and come to the realization that God can do anything and use anyone, even an old, tired priest and his old, tired wife.
God seems to specialize in having the unlikely do the difficult, or the impossible. Moses, an 80-year old shepherd and murderer led Israel out of slavery in Egypt. David, a teenage shepherd, subdued the Philistine champion, a giant named Goliath. Esther’s greatest qualification seems to be her beauty, but the pretty girl saved God’s people from annihilation. Nobody was more surprised to find himself preaching about Jesus than Saul of Tarsus.
When Jerome Hines died in 2003, the New York Times obit called the born-again Christian, “a mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera for more than 40 years.” Hines classic bass voice was loved by opera fans, but not by his high school music teacher. Hines was thrown out of his high school glee club for singing off key. Hines studied math in college, ready to pursue a career as a mathematician. But he was “discovered” in an amateur theater performance and the rest, as they say, is history.
So there you sit. No special talent, not the brightest bulb on the planet. Ordinary. Maybe you’re old and believe your best days are behind you, or perhaps you think you’re too young for anyone to take seriously. You don’t think you have much to offer, but what if God thinks differently?
Here’s some advice for modern day Zechariahs: When God taps you on the shoulder, don’t doubt, don’t question, don’t make excuses. Just do what He asks. God and Gabriel don’t like doubt!