There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, "although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." Then the woman came and told her husband, "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'"
The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him. The spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him 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. 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 must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Zechariah said to the angel, "how will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years?" The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "this is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."
There are many interesting parallels in the bible stories about God granting the gift of children to those who longed for them. After years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah were blessed with Isaac, Manoah and his wife were blessed with Samson, and — in today’s Gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth were blessed with the great fore-runner, John the Baptist.
Luke has annunciation stories to both Zechariah and Mary, in parallel yet distinctive accounts. Each is startled at the angel’s appearance. Gabriel instructs each not to be afraid. Each is promised a child and given a hint of his or her child’s future greatness.
Luke is careful to locate events in both time and place. After the message to Zechariah in Jerusalem that he and Elizabeth would have a son the mute priest, still not quite believing the news, returns to his home. Elizabeth has more faith and rejoices in her pregnancy, while staying secluded for the first five months. Then, in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the fuller meaning of what God is doing is made clear to her. Her young relative, Mary of Nazareth comes to her to be with her for a time, and share the news of her own blessed pregnancy — and to lift up joyful praise to God, who is coming to visit his people with saving grace.
The angel Gabriel is sent to Zechariah to bring him the good news that his wife, Elizabeth, who has been barren will soon give birth to a son, and a special son at that, someone whose calling it would be to prepare for the Lord a people fit for him. However, this good news was too much for Zechariah to hear and he could not bring himself to believe the words that Gabriel spoke to him. Perhaps there is something of Zechariah in all of us. We sometimes find it hard to believe good news, perhaps because we are so used to hearing bad news. In particular, we can sometimes find it hard to believe the good news that comes to us from God; or we may believe the good news from God in a general kind of a way, but not as good news addressed to me personally. The dimension of God’s good news that we celebrate at this time of the year is that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has become God-with-us, Emmanuel, in and through Mary’s son, Jesus. This is God’s good news addressed to us as a people, and addressed to us as individuals. God is with us in Christ, and Christ is beside us, behind us, before us, above us, below us. This is the good news we are asked to believe and, indeed, rejoice in during these days.