11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Thoughts: Zechariah was a religious person who was walking by sight rather than by faith. There's a little Zechariah in all of us. Zechariah was not expecting the presence of God- or anything supernatural- even in the courtyard of the priests in the very Temple of the Lord. A lot of us come to church not expecting God to break into our lives. We pray not expecting God to do anything about it. The great thing about Zechariah was that he was faithful in his prayers even when his prayers didn't seem to be answered for a son. But God didn't just answer his prayers for a son- he gave him the one Jesus called "the greatest one born of a woman." We need to pray expectantly- which is hard when God doesn't seem to answer our prayers. I think about those praying for a relative who has strayed away- a prodigal- and they don't seem to come back. Or I think of those praying for someone with a chronic disease. It is hard to pray expectantly- believing God can do "more than we can ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20). Yet, the Lord teaches us faith through prayer.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to pray faithfully and expectantly. Keep me believing in your power and ability to answer my prayers though it may seem impossible.
John Calvin abridged: By an extraordinary purpose of God, it was appointed that John be born in an unnatural way similar to Isaac in the Old Testament. John is a mortal man born of earthly parents in a supernatural way- almost as if he fell from heaven. God does not try to terrify his servants, yet it is advantageous and even necessary that they be struck with awe in order to give God the glory due his name (Ps. 29:2). The presence of God leads people to reverence and humbles the pride of the flesh. When God is absent we indulge in pride and self-flattery. It is the godly who shake and tremble at the presence of God (here only a spark of the light- an angel). It is the ungodly and insensible who hear the voice of God without alarm.