Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I, too, decided, as one having a grasp of everything from the start, to write a well-ordered account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may have a firm grasp of the words in which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God during his section’s turn of duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 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 must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a well known biblical story, yet sometimes it’s overlooked for its theological significance. After Luke’s preamble about why he’s writing these things down, he begins his Gospel with the story of Christ’s birth. Luke, however, doesn’t start with Jesus’ genealogy or a detailed historical depiction of the event of Christ’s birth. Rather, he starts with Zechariah and Elizabeth and their miraculous pregnancy. Not only was Elizabeth past the typical childbearing years of her life, she was also unable to have children, as the text duly notes. Once again we see God using the most unassuming folks to accomplish his will. Just like Abraham and Sarah, a pregnancy seemed impossible.
Zechariah, a priest from the line of Aaron, Israel’s first priest, was performing his regular duties in the sanctuary, when the Angel of the Lord came with this exciting news. The angel offers the standard greeting “do not be afraid,” and proceeds to proclaim the good news of the birth of Israel’s next prophet who we know as John the Baptist. For those who might have forgotten, these pregnancies–both Elizabeth’s and Mary’s–come at the end of over 400 years of silence, without any prophets, kings, or leaders in the nation of Israel acting as the voice of God. The priests and scribes were the only figures guiding the Jews and many of them had fallen prey to the corruption of the times.
God was not only preparing to send his Son into the world, but also a prophet to prepare the way for him, and Yahweh had a few operating instructions for Zechariah. He was to name his baby boy, John. As the child grew, he was instructed to keep him from wine and strong drink. Great joy and gladness would come from his birth and he would turn many Jews back to the Lord. Then, something phenomenal happens, Zechariah was told that his baby would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. Let’s pause for a moment and consider the significance of this pronouncement. The baby, who hadn’t been conceived yet, was already promised the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In a period of our history where the Holy Spirit was not given yet to all of humanity, this baby was set apart for a specific purpose. God’s master plan of redemption and love for his people is seen once again in this miracle.