The matters in which you are interested came to pass in the days of Herod, King of the Jews. There was a certain priest named Zachariah, from the order of Abia, and his wife was from among the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous before God, embracing all the commands. And when it came to walking in the righteousness of the Lord, they were blameless. But they had no children.
It was because Elizabeth was barren. And their childbearing days were far-gone.
The time came for him to serve as priest before God, in the way of his order. According to the custom of the priests, the dice chose him to be the one to burn incense when he came into the temple of the Lord
And all the people were praying outside during the hour of its lighting.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to him. It was standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zachariah saw it, he was so startled that fear fell upon him. And the angel said to him:
“Don’t fear Zachariah, because your deep prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a child. And you shall call him John. With the boy, you will find yourself so happy and rejoicing. In fact, many will be filled with joy at his birth. So listen carefully: he must not drink wine or hard alcohol. But it gets deeper. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb. And he will bring back many sons of Israel to the Lord their God. John will come before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah with a two fold mission: first to return the hearts of fathers to children and the disobedient into right thinking; second – by tilling the soil – to prepare the people for the Lord.”
Zachariah said to the angel: “By what sign will I know this for sure?” For I am old and my wife’s childbearing days are far gone.”
And responding, the angel said to him:
“You want a sign? I am Gabriel, the one who stands near to the face of God. I was sent to speak to you and to declare these things. Now behold, silence will come upon you, and you will not be able to speak. You won’t be able to speak until the day these things come to pass. You are silenced, because you didn’t believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their right time.”
All the while, the people were waiting for Zachariah. And they were astonished at how long it was taking him in the temple. Then when he came to them, he wasn’t able to speak to them. All they could discern were three things: that he saw a vision in the temple, that he was gesturing to them, and that he remained unable to speak.
So it came to pass that when the time of his service was fulfilled, he left for home. After this all happened, Elizabeth, his wife, conceived. She kept herself in her room for five months in wonder, saying, “The Lord has done this for me. These are surprising days when, among the race of men, the King-Hearted One brought me out of the night of my disgrace.”
:: Notes ::
“When God gives, he gives with ‘largesse.’ His gifts overflow, they are without measure; his gifts are piled high and given out in abundance. You see here how first the angel promises that Zachary’s prayer will be answered; then he says that the wife that was barren will become a mother; next he speaks of the joy that will be felt by many people and the greatness of God’s power…At the same time, it is a warning to parents to be properly grateful not only for the merits of their children, but for their birth. It is no slight gift on the part of God when he gives you children to continue your race, heirs to succeed you…Fertility is a gift of God to parents. So fathers should be grateful to have begotten sons; sons should be grateful to be begotten; mothers should be grateful for the honor of giving birth to children…Let earth be radiant in praise of God and be thankful that it is cultivated; let the world rejoice because God is known; let the Church be glad to see the number of her faithful people augmented…
“Equally true is it that Saint John will walk before the Lord. He is precursor by his birth and precursor by his death. Perhaps this mystery is fulfilled even today in our own present life. There is something like the power of John that comes first into our soul when we are near to believing in Christ. This power prepares the paths of our soul for Faith; it comes to make straight the twisted, tortuous ways of our life and to set them right for our pilgrimage. Otherwise we would fall into some abyss of error. So, all the valleys of our soul will be filled in by the fruits of virtue, and all the high places of worldly pride and dignity will fall prostrate before the Lord in humble fear. For they will know that nothing is so fragile, so vulnerable as we are, can possible be exalted.”
St. Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: Book 1.
“When Zechariah saw the angel, he was terrified. If the human gaze beholds a strange form, the mind is agitated and the soul is unsettled. The angel understands that human nature reacts in this way, so he first settles Zechariah’s agitation and says, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah.’ He revives the trembling man and gladdens him by announcing his news. He says, ‘Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth with bear a son. You shall name him John. He will bring you joy and elation.’ When a just man is born into the world and enters the course of this life, those responsible for his birth rejoice, and their hearts soar upward. But, when someone who is destined for an evil life is born, one who is virtually banished to a prison as a punishment, the one responsible for his birth is thrown into confusion and loses heart…
“Scripture says of John, ‘He will be great in the Lord’s sight.’ This phrase shows the greatness of John’s soul. God’s eyes beheld this greatness. There is also a ‘smallness’ of soul, which properly looks to the soul’s virtue…John’s birth is filled with miracles. An archangel announced the coming of our Lord and Savior; an archangel also announces John’s birth…I believe the mystery of John is still being achieved in the world today. If anyone is going to believe in Christ Jesus, John’s spirit and power first come to his soul and ‘prepare a perfect people for the Lord.’ It makes the roads in the heart’s rough places level and straightens out its paths. Not only at that time were the roads made ready and the paths straight; even today John’s spirit and power precede the coming of our Lord and Savior. How great are the Lord’s mysteries and his plan! Angels go before Jesus, and today angels go up or down for the salvation of men in Christ Jesus, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen.”
Origen, Homilies on Luke: Homily 4.