Jesse Tree 22. “Zechariah and Elizabeth: Hopeful Anticipation”

Scripture: Luke 1:5–25, 67–80

Birth of John the Baptist
Teramo_Piaggio, Circumcision and Birth of John the Baptist with Annunciation to Zechariah (1535)

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold (Luke 1:5–25)

Not long before Jesus’s birth to the Virgin Mary, God gave a baby to Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were Mary’s relatives. Following a pattern that the Old Testament developed several times to keep God’s covenant succession moving, God promised a miraculous birth to a barren couple. This had happened with the patriarchs and their wives and with Samson. And it would happen again most miraculously with Mary.

Unbelievable Promise

“Zecharias and Elizabeth,” by James Tissot

Zechariah was a priest pulling his once-in-a-lifetime duty in the temple. Standing at the incense altar, he heard God’s promise of a son to him and his aged wife. God gave him orders about naming the child “John” and about committing him to something like the Nazirite vow. Then God promised, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth” (Luke 1:15), a promise that echoed the promise about prophets and deliverers (Judg 13:5, 7; Isa 49:1; Jer 1:5).

Of course Zechariah had some trouble getting his mind around that idea, just as Abraham and Sarah had when they were told their retirement years would be enlivened by the birth of a child. And because Zechariah had a difficult time believing it, God told him, “You will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born” (Luke 1:20).

When Zechariah got off duty as a priest, he went home and slept with his wife. At their age, Elizabeth may have found even that a bit of a surprise. And imagine her amazement when she got pregnant. I don’t know whether morning sickness or a big belly gave her the first clue, since there wouldn’t have been any missed periods to give the first alert. Of course, Zechariah’s frantic scribbling may have passed the news to her—perhaps on the night the gray, wrinkled couple conceived John in geriatric intimacy.

“The Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist,” by Raphael

Expectant Mothers

Before either John or Jesus were born, their mothers visited each other and rejoiced at the thing that God was doing in their families. In fact, the greeting of Mary, who carried Jesus in her womb, provoked quite a response (Luke 1:42–45): “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” The result was a brief prophecy: “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.” By that same Spirit, she identified Mary as “the mother of my Lord” and blessed her: “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57–66)

In due course, Elizabeth gave birth to a baby boy, to much rejoicing. When it came time to circumcise and name the child, they surprised everybody by naming him John instead of Zechariah, Jr. (Luke 1:60, 63). This boy belonged to the Lord not to his aged parents. “Awe fell on the whole neighborhood” and the question arose: “What will this child turn out to be?” (Luke 1:65–66).

Zechariah’s Prophecy (Luke 1:67–80)

John the Baptist
Rembrandt (1619–1699), The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist

The Holy Spirit not only opened Zechariah’s mouth after he properly named the child John. He was also “filled with the Holy Spirit” and prophesied, answering the people’s question (Luke 1:66–67). Zechariah’s prophecy was actually twofold: It told of the coming Savior that God was sending (1:68–75), and he said his own son John would be a prophet preaching to prepare the way for that Savior (Luke 1:76–79; see Mal 3:1; 4:5; Isa 40:3–5).

Questions, Reflections, & Commitments

  • None of us ought to expect to place ourselves in the shoes of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the Virgin Mary. They were people that God chose to act through and advance redemptive history in unique ways. But their response to promise, whether in incredulity or belief, can exhort us to respond with faith when God calls on us in our own humble service.
  • None of us ought to expect that our child is a John the Baptist, to say nothing of a Christ. But these mothers raised their sons to be used of God according to his promise. Commit yourself to raising your child in such a way that they will be open to serving God. And encourage them to do it when the time come for them to act on God’s call.

Ornament for the day

  • Click here to download cross-stitch patterns for all the daily ornaments.
  • Click here to download a simple coloring book for all the daily ornaments.

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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