Luke in his opening chapter lets us listen to a variety of vocal responses to God that can be of practical help to his readers in their own devotions.
- Zechariahs’ former voice of Frustration
When Elizabeth was quite clearly well past the menopause, she and Zechariah gave up praying for the child she’d never been able to conceive. Now the old priest had been given the privilege of a lifetime – he’d at last drawn the lot that allowed him to enter the temple’s holy place to ‘burn incense’ while ‘the people were praying’ (Luke 1:10). He was mortified to see an angel standing by the altar, and astonished when told: ‘Your [singular] prayer [singular] has been heard’ (Luke 1:13). He hardly needed to be told which prayer that had been.
It is okay to pour out your frustration on the Lord (use the book of Psalms). He can cope … and he can remember … and he can answer … one day, eventually.
- His current voice of Fluster
It would seem that they both had ceased that prayer theme because he splutters and stutters his series of ‘buts’ to the angel. ‘I am an old man’, he protests. True, but ‘I am Gabriel’, replied the angel (Luke 1:18-19). ‘And … you will be silent and unable to speak until the day …’ (Luke 1:20). He’ll have many months to meditate on the fact that in his people’s history God had so often stepped in at the eleventh hour: Abraham was 100 years of age and Sarah 90 when she gave birth to Isaac; he eventually married at 40, then had to wait 20 more years before their twins were born; and their son Jacob had no girlfriend until he reached 77 and only married at 84! and after that fathered twelve sons and a daughter!
To her credit, Elizabeth agreed to move the single beds together. Soon she knew … and decided to take a retreat: ‘for five months she kept herself hidden’ (Luke 1:24). Did she move away to relatives knowing Zechariah couldn’t tell another soul? Did he go too? Although no angel visited her, nor did she get prophetic dreams as would Joseph the carpenter, she still had a testimony, but didn’t wish to stir up a premature media frenzy while her man was still dumbstruck. And in the meantime:
- Mary’s voice of Faith
On being visited by Gabriel in her parents’ home in Nazareth and told she would ‘bear a son’ to be called ‘Jesus’, young Mary asked politely, ‘How will this be …?’ since she was as yet unmarried. Not only was she told, ‘The Holy Spirit will … overshadow you’, but that ‘your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son’ six months ago (Luke 1:35-37). Her response was instant: ‘Let it be to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38).
- Elizabeth’s voice of Forthtelling
Mary hurried off, found her relatives at home, and as she greeted them, Elizabeth felt ‘the baby leap … in her womb … and … was filled with the Holy Spirit’ and prophesied that Mary was about to become ‘the mother of my Lord.’ She then blessed Mary who ‘believed … what was spoken to her from the Lord’ (Luke 1:39-45) – even before Mary could tell her own story! One doesn’t have to have an angelic visit or amazing dreams in order to prophesy.
- Both Mary (Luke 1:46-55) and Zechariah (Luke 1:65-79) praised in the voice of Freedom
– each at the appropriate time. Mary did so in private to Elizabeth and Zechariah on arriving at their home. Zechariah did so in public after writing ‘His name is John’ at the circumcision of their son (Luke 1:63).