5. And this is where I'll begin the story: In the time of King Herod's reign in Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. He was married to a woman named Elizabeth, who was also a descendant of Aaron.
6. By all accounts, both of them lived very honorable and fulfilling lives that were pleasing in the sight of God. They observed the commandments, and just basically had reputations which were above reproach.
7. It seemed that the only thing they lacked in their lives was a child of their own. For some reason, Elizabeth had never been able to conceive, and at the time in which the curtain rises on this drama, they were both well advanced in years.
8. Anyway, one day when Zechariah's particular division was on duty, and he was serving as priest before God,
9. he was chosen by lot (a custom of the priesthood) to go into the Temple of the Lord and burn the incense.
10. So when the time for the burning of the incense came, all those who had assembled to worship that day were just quietly praying outside.
11. All of a sudden, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense!
12. Well, when Zechariah got a good look at this imposing, celestial creature, he nearly collapsed from fear.
13. But the angel very calmly and directly said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah...your prayer has been heard...the secret desire of your heart has been granted. Your wife Elizabeth is going to bear a son, and you are to call him John.
14. And this boy of yours is going to bring you so much joy...you can't even imagine! In fact, his birth will bring a dimension of sheer delight to many, many people.
15. And he will achieve unprecedented greatness in the sight of the Lord, and will never desire to drink his fill of wine or any other alcoholic beverage, because he will be born fully filled with the Holy Spirit!
16. He will effectively bring back the relevance of the real God to many of the people of Israel.
17. And in the sight of the Lord, he will be Elijah...or the Elijah of his day...because he will reunite the hearts of the generations...his message will resonate with both the parents and the children, and so it will re-connect them and make them as one. Even the skeptics and the doubters...the cynics and the indifferent...will be changed and motivated by the sense of expectancy created by his preaching. He will literally make people ready for a revelation of the real God."
18. Ironically, as the angel was speaking of doubters and skeptics, Zechariah's own sense of reason caused him to suddenly flee in his mind to the seat of his natural logic, despite the fact that an angel was standing in the Temple, prophesying to him! So he asked the supernatural messenger, "How can I be sure that what you're telling me is the truth? I mean, I'm an old man, if you know what I mean...I lost my virility long ago, and I'm married to an old woman, well past the change of life."
19. The angel said to him, "Don't insult me, Zechariah...I am Gabriel! I live in the very presence of God, and have been sent here to speak to you, and to tell you this good news. If there were any possibility that this thing wasn't going to happen, in spite of the biological facts of your life, I wouldn't be standing here!
20. How can you second-guess the very thing for which you have prayed? God has decreed this reality in the heavenly realm, but you must permit it to manifest on the earth by your agreement with Him. So this is what I will do...so that you won't inadvertently abort your own baby by your doubt-filled speech, I will protect the seed from the destructive potential of your own words. I will cause you to be totally mute until the day of your son's birth!"
21. Meanwhile, the people were still waiting outside for Zechariah, wondering why it was taking him so long to come out.
22. When eventually he did emerge, he couldn't even make a sound. But somehow, through his own, makeshift kind of sign language, he was able to convey to them that he had seen a vision in the temple, and somehow they comprehended.
23. When his time of service was completed, he silently returned home.
24. And, sure enough, after some time his wife Elizabeth actually became pregnant, as if she were a young woman married to a young man, just as the angel had said. The whole thing, particularly the pregnancy, was such an adjustment...such a shock to her, really... that for five months she remained in complete seclusion.
25. But during that whole time she never wavered in faith..."The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these strange days He has shown His favor, and has created this whole new reality for us!"