19 December 2015

Luke 1:5-25

"The angel replied, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.'" (v.19)

Psalm: Psalm 71


Zechariah and Elizabeth needed to hear some good news. They were childless in a culture that mocked women for this, and they were well past childbearing age. Now an angel tells Zechariah that his prayers have been answered and he and Elizabeth are to have a son, whom they are to call John. This news alone would have been cause for celebration, but the boy will play a special role in God's purposes. He will prepare Israel for the coming of God.

This news comes as a complete surprise to Zechariah. He and Elizabeth are observant Jews who are just going about their regular business. They lived outside the city of Jerusalem, in the hill-country of Judea. Zechariah was a priest and when it was the turn of his division he would go to Jerusalem to serve in the Temple. He would lodge within the Temple grounds and then return home to continue his work in the local community as a teacher and leader.

Zechariah responds to the angel Gabriel's news by asking for a sign. He wants something that will help him to believe. A sign is given, but it comes as a punishment because Zechariah doubted the angel's word. Zechariah becomes unable to speak. The angel's words do come true however, and Elizabeth thanks God for her pregnancy.

For Luke, there is more to these events than Zechariah becoming a father or Elizabeth escaping the stigma of being childless. God is demonstrating a concern for human lives and is intervening in human history just as the Jewish people longed for. The angel's announcement of John's conception and birth is just the beginning of what God has planned.

To Ponder

  • How do you know when to persevere in praying for something, and when to stop?
  • Put yourself in Zechariah's place. What would you have said to the angel Gabriel?
  • What signs have you asked for? What happened?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Ainger

Caroline Ainger is a Methodist minister based in Liverpool. She has a passion for creative worship, social justice issues and international development.