“Then there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.’” (Luke 1:11-13)
In many images of the liturgy, both in the Scriptures and in Christian tradition, we see angels carrying the gifts of the people to the heavenly sanctuary. The idea is that we make our offering (praise, thanksgiving, incense, gifts of grain or wine or animals) and the angels bring it “up” and present it to God directly.
Personally, I believe in angels and I take this bit pretty literally. But even so, I think I’d be just as surprised as Zechariah if an angel actually decided to appear to me in the sacristy. That’s not how this is supposed to work! I do my job, you do yours, and otherwise we stay out of each other’s way. But here the angel is bringing a message down from the heavenly sanctuary to the priest. “Could we cover this in a minute when I’m done with the incense?” I imagine myself thinking, were I in Zechariah’s shoes. That and “oh boy, this can’t be good. I’m in trouble.”
So like all the angels in all the stories, this one has to say “Fear not!” before anything else. God’s messenger popping up right now is good news, not bad news. The whole traffic from earth to heaven hasn’t broken down, it’s just that something else is happening too. Zechariah, you’ve spent your life offering gifts. Now it’s time to receive one.
Have you ever gotten something you longed for in a way you couldn’t have expected? Or have you encountered the power of God at a time you weren’t looking for it, but that afterward seemed obvious? Spend a few minutes today finding or remembering those experiences, and remember to give thanks for the unexpected responses to your own prayers.
Pray: for all people struggling with fertility; for clergy and bishops providing for the worship of God; for all who experience fear or anxiety; for comfort and assurance for yourself and others.
Our Father, who art in heaven...
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Pastor Ben Dueholm