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  • Wayne Chasney

The Other Birth Story

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. (Luke 1:13)

Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John make up the other birth story in the gospel of Luke. According to Luke, months before the angel Gabriel was sent to a young woman named Mary, Gabriel first appeared to Zechariah, promising him a son. As opposed to Joseph and Mary, a young couple just starting out together, Zechariah and Elizabeth were, as Luke says, “getting on in years.”

The angel tells Zechariah that his son, John, will prepare his people for the coming of their God. Zechariah has his doubts. “How will I know this is so?” he asks. “For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” I’ll bet she loved hearing that! Because of his doubts, Gabriel rendered Zechariah mute until the child was born.

Perhaps you know what happens next. Elizabeth becomes pregnant, despite her “getting on in years.” In her sixth month, Gabriel appears to Mary, and she, too, becomes pregnant. And when the two pregnant women come together, Elizabeth’s child “leaped in her womb,” and both women were filled with joy.

We forget the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. It doesn’t make it into the Christmas specials or the Sunday school pageants. We move on quickly to the manger and the shepherds and the Magi.

Yet here it is, filling up half of the lengthy first chapter of Luke’s gospel. If Luke thought the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is important, we probably should too.

We know John would go on to prepare the way for Jesus, out in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John helps prepare us for the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Perhaps it’s a caution for us not to rush right to Bethlehem without first keeping an eye out for angels and listening for God’s promises of the unexpected.

Much of our world today skips over Advent and rushes headlong into Christmas. But are we truly prepared when the time comes for Mary to deliver her child? Are we ready to receive the miracle of God’s beloved community born on Christmas Day? Before you rush off to Bethlehem, listen for God’s voice to help you prepare for the coming of the Christ-child, just as God did for Zechariah and Elizabeth.

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