It’s hard to live in someone else’s shadow. Few people can name more than two or three vice-presidents. Almost no fan knows the name of the linemen who make holes for the million-dollar backs to scamper through, or the second-string quarterbacks who back up the stars.
When it comes to being overshadowed in the Bible, consider Elizabeth and Zechariah. The Christmas drama puts Mary and Joseph on the marquee. Featured also would be Herod at his wily worst, three Eastern wise men, a group of shepherds, and an anonymous innkeeper. Only end credits might include, “Also starring Elizabeth and Zechariah.”
Elizabeth and Zechariah were the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah and Elizabeth were past their prime in years. Most of us would not like the term the King James Version uses to describe their senior citizen status. It says they were “well stricken in years.” Some of you might see it that way, but most of you would not. Some are indeed “stricken” with age. But most of you handle it well and are a bright example to those around you.
Zechariah was an older priest who ministered in a little village in the hill country of Judea. There were 20,000 priests like him in Israel and each year one division of priests got to do a two-week stint in the Temple of Jerusalem. One priest, chosen by lottery, would get the opportunity to make the sacrifice. The priest entered the holy darkness of the inner Temple, spread coals on the altar, and sprinkled incense on it. As the smoke began to rise and fragrance filled the air, the gathered throng outside would know that God hears prayers.
This particular year Zechariah won the coin toss. As he entered the Temple, he was greeted by a voice with shocking news. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son,” it said, “and you will call his name John!”
“You’re putting me on!” was his reaction. “We’re too old for this. We’re not even in midlife. We’re in later life.”
Then suddenly Zechariah could not speak. Luke said it was because of his unbelief. It might also have been that he had a stroke— some people would if they got that kind of news at 65...or even 45. So, Zechariah emerged from the holy place dazed and mute. His one opportunity to deliver the main sermon at the Temple and he can’t utter a word!
Elizabeth did become pregnant and John was born six months before Jesus. Upon his birth Zechariah’s blood pressure returned to normal, he regained his speech, and spoke of the coming of Jesus “to give light to those who sit in darkness, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The story of Elizabeth and Zechariah is an opportunity to speak a good word for the ordinary in the Bible. These two people become lost in the Christmas story because theirs is a sub-plot in a larger drama. Zechariah was not a “name” priest who served a prestigious congregation. He came from a small town, maybe even open country.
When God chose to reveal himself, He bypassed the power of Rome and the super-intelligence of Athens and came to ordinary people, living in a little country out on the back side of nowhere.
When He wanted to slip into human life, He did so in the form of a child, in the home of a father who worked with his hands as a carpenter, to a peasant mother of simple tastes and quiet graces.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are but two among many of the ordinary people that God has used in his way of doing things. Ordinary people are the heart and hands and feet of His will.
People say Christmas is for children. That may be true in the sense that in their bright-eyed amazement they capture its wonder and awe better than the rest of us. But I would like to restore Christmas to those of all ages who still stand in wonder and amazement at God’s gifts and his provision for our lives. Elizabeth and Zechariah were old in body but youthful in spirit. They didn’t yearn for the “good old days” or try to remember how it was “back when.”
While it was still dark in Israel, they rose to light their candles and anticipate the dawn. They looked forward to the coming of One who would usher in a new day.
And so do we. We celebrate once again the season that transcends age and is for all ages. We are bright-eyed with our children, but we celebrate also those who have weathered the years and survived the storms. They are the teachers who impart the meaning of love and the definition of grace.
Written by Michael C. Blackwell, President/CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer)