I love scaring my kids. Creeping ninja-like to avoid the sound of creaky floorboards . . . waiting in silence for several minutes at just the right spot, and then . . . “Raaaaaaa!” Recently, my daughter Jess jumped and threw all of her laundry in the air, and she and her accouterments fell to the floor. I’ve taken to getting video records of their reactions (which are hilarious), but I won’t share them with the world so as to avoid expensive therapy.
Zechariah, who would become the father of John the Baptist, was performing his priestly duty when an angel crept up on him in Luke 1. It was his turn to offer incense before the Lord alongside the daily sacrifice. It’s an honor that priests had only once a lifetime, if they had a chance at all.
The table of incense was in the holy place before the curtain that separates it from the most holy place. The most holy place was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and only the high priest could go in there once a year on the Day of Atonement. I’ve heard that on that day a cord was tied to the High Priest’s leg so that he could be dragged out in case he passed out or something. Nobody wanted to go in there! Anyone else who entered would die. Zech was as close as he would ever get to this most sacred of places.
So, Zechariah was probably a bit nervous. This was the place God decided to bring his message. I wonder if God was tempted to have his angel say, “Raaaaaaa!” I’ll bet he and Zechariah will be at least chuckling about it now and then throughout eternity. “You should have seen your face!” says the Holy One.
“I almost peed my linen breeches! I was older than dirt, you know,” Zechariah laughs.
Okay, maybe God didn’t choose this time and place for a good laugh. But He did choose it for a reason. Some say it was God interrupting the Jewish ritual to show that something better was coming. God was about to unleash a greatly improved, unthinkable way for people to draw near to him. His grace and truth would come together in the form of a tiny baby, and Zechariah’s future son would be the one to pave the way for His coming.
I like Walter L. Liefeld’s thoughts: “Luke probably viewed this dramatic moment not so much as a judgment against Judaism as an appropriate and significant context for the new revelation.” It’s as if God was saying that up until that time people had related to him primarily out of holy fear as represented by the act Zechariah was in the middle of performing. Now they could also know him through the intimacy and tenderness of a King who shares in the realities of our humanness.
As Pastor Randy noted last year, Christmas is a time to transition from fear to faith. Praise God! Now he is among us, and we no longer have to be afraid – unless, of course, it’s all in good fun.
(Okay, this is a re-blog from last year. But, I had fun writing (and re-writing) it, and nobody reads something posted as a re-blog, right?)