|The angel appears to Zechariah |
Alexander Ivanov 1806 – 1858
opaque watercolour on paper (26 × 39 cm) — 1850's
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Read : Luke 1.5-23
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.
Zechariah had been a priest all his life, one among many who served in the Temple in Jerusalem. Priesthood was hereditary, and there were so many priests that they had to serve on a rota in the Temple in Jerusalem. Individual priests would not often have the honour of offering the incense in the sanctuary, one of the most holy parts of the Temple, so the day when Zechariah was chosen was a special one. He must have hoped it would go well, but instead of quietly fulfilling his duty, he found himself confronted by an angel, with explosive news. His wife, Elizabeth, would have a child. As both were old by this stage, this seemed incredible. Ivanov’s painting, a water colour sketch for a fresco, captures the moment when the angel makes Zechariah unable to speak until the child is born. Sometimes we need to keep silent, and watch and wait, rather than hurrying to try to get our heads around life.
- Have you ever had an experience of God, or a message you thought was from God?
- How would you have reacted in Zechariah’s position?