Father Edward McIlmail, LC
In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there
was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division
of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in
the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and
ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child,
because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in
years. Once when he was serving as priest in
his division’s turn before God, according to the practice
of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to
enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying
outside at the hour of the incense offering, the
angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at
the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled
by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be
afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife
Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall
name him John. And you will have joy and
gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he
will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will
be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his
mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the
children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will
go before him in the spirit and power of
Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and
the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to
prepare a people fit for the Lord.” Then Zechariah
said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For
I am an old man, and my wife is
advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in
reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I
was sent to speak to you and to announce
to you this good news. But now you will be
speechless and unable to talk until the day these
things take place, because you did not believe my
words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Meanwhile
the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed
that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. But
when he came out, he was unable to speak to
them, and they realized that he had seen a
vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but
remained mute. Then, when his days of ministry were
completed, he went home. After this time his wife
Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months,
saying, “So has the Lord done for me at
a time when he has seen fit to take
away my disgrace before others.”
Introductory Prayer: Grant me the
grace to make the most of this time of anticipation
for your arrival at Christmas, Lord. My faith rests
in you, my hope looks toward spending eternity with
you. Help me grasp the value of time in the
face of eternity.
Petition: Lord, help me
to see the signs that you send into my life.
Seeing, yet Disbelieving: Zechariah had no excuse for doubting. There
he was: in the sanctuary of the Lord, burning
incense ― a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a privileged
moment, a sacred space. Even an angel appears! If ever
a man should have been prepared for a special
message, it was Zechariah. Yet he doubts. He doesn’t
believe. He had followed "all the commandments," yet his
fidelity didn’t translate into a living faith at a crucial
moment. Do we fall into the same trap? We
say many prayers, but react with skepticism when God has
a special request. Why is that? Are we trying
to show love when we pray? Or are we
just rattling on?
2. Excuses, Excuses: Zechariah thought his age would
hinder God’s plan. He underestimated God’s power. Indeed, it
is not God who is limited; rather, we are the
ones who limit God, so to speak. Throughout the
Bible, God called on unlikely people. Moses probably stuttered
(cf. Exodus 4:10). Jeremiah was "too young" (Jeremiah 1:6).
Peter was uneducated (Acts 4:13). Saul of Tarsus hated
Christians (cf. Acts 9:1). All were unlikely prophets or apostles
― yet they let God use them. What’s my
excuse for saying no to God? Am I too busy?
Too old? Too young? Too unworthy? Could God be
calling me to do something that I think is
beyond my capability?
3. Plowing Ahead: God goes ahead with his
plan despite Zechariah’s lack of faith. The Almighty was
anxious to raise up a fitting herald (St. John the
Baptist) for his Son. So he left Zechariah speechless
for a time. We shouldn’t be surprised if God
plows ahead with his own plans in our lives, even
when we resist him. He might do something unusual
in our lives in order to keep his plans advancing.
Could those setbacks really be God’s hand at work?
Might he be preparing us for something better?
with Christ: I like to think that I’m less
stubborn than Zechariah, Lord. But sometimes it is hard
to accept your will. I might even feel as if
I have "missed the boat," and that you are
no longer interested in me. Help me reject this
kind of thinking and to have confidence in you.
I will pray a Hail Mary for
the ability to say “yes” to God’s plans in my