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.
1. 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?
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?
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?
Conversation 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.
Resolution: I will
pray a Hail Mary for the ability to say
“yes” to God’s plans in my life.