The world of sports offers some great finishes. Kentucky, behind by 31 with 15:30 to go, beat LSU (1994). Indianapolis trailed 28-7 going into the fourth quarter some years back. Peyton Manning put on a show and the Colts edged Tampa Bay 38-35.
Zechariah needed a comeback. We hear each year what he did during the Christmas season. He must have rehearsed his less than stellar performance a hundred times over during his silent retreat, his nine-month timeout. One of the worst things about failure is regret, leading to self-condemnation: “How could I be so stupid?”
Zechariah recovered—some never do. Failure gives way to despair. The cross deals with sin, but it doesn’t cover regret, looking in rather than up, viewing our folly rather than the foolishness of the cross.
Zechariah had time to think through his poor response. When the day to name his boy came, he wrote “John” on a tablet. Unbelief had closed his mouth—obedience opened it. And what came out was what was inside—praise and prophecy. What a comeback!
The divine discipline for unbelief turned out in Zechariah’s favor. We are urged by Scripture neither to “make light of the Lord’s discipline” nor to “lose heart when he rebukes” us (Hebrews 12:5,6).
Zechariah’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense in the temple turned out to be a life-transforming occasion. This news would alter his senior citizen days and bring him into the center of God’s prophetic activity.
Zechariah couldn’t talk during that three-quarters of a year experience, but he could listen. When Mary visited their home in the Judean hills, Elizabeth prophesied “in a loud voice” (Lk.1:42). No doubt Zechariah heard this holy commotion.
The Old Testament ends with a curse. Then follows four centuries of silence. It had been a long wait. Some had given up hope, while holy people like Simeon and Anna, Zechariah and Elizabeth were still waiting, believing.
Zechariah pondered the possibilities of his son’s activity during his disability leave. He marveled that he and Elizabeth had been chosen to raise this key player in God’s plan. He was so filled with thoughts of God’s moving that he literally burst forth into prophecy when his moment came.
The miracle birth turned the tide, which started with an angelic visitation and ended in the priest’s home with the arrival and naming of what would be a camel-smelling, locust-eating prophet. He was destined to be the greatest one, standing at the door and ushering in a new age, pointing people to their salvation, now being carried in the womb of Elizabeth’s teenage relative.
It was time for Zechariah to once again speak after most of a year. What will the neighbors hear first: “Wow! I’m glad that’s over.” Nothing of the kind. “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God” (Lk.1:64).
Gabriel had shared with him the destiny of his son. How thrilling for Zechariah, who thought perhaps he had been overlooked, to now see that they were right on track with the divine plan and that they would raise Messiah’s forerunner.
Each Advent we hear more about Zechariah’s crash than his comeback. Let’s be fair to the old priest. From Gabriel’s announcement to eight days after John’s birth, God dealt with him, and he responded well. Let’s remember him through our setbacks, so they become springboards for God’s fresh movement in our lives.