This is a series of short stories in which I take the biblical story of Christmas and weave in details as I imagine they happened. The Bible is inspired by God, my writing is not. I hope my additions make this story come to life personally for you.
The Christmas Story Part 1
“I’m praying for you, for us,” Elizabeth said.
“And I for you,” Zechariah said lifting his bag.
“And for us, will you pray for us? You still have hope, don’t you?” Elizabeth asked.
Zechariah winced. Their eyes met. “We’ve talked of this so many times. Your faith is greater than mine but I still have hope. Our God is faithful, I will pray for us.”
The sun peeked over the horizon. “It’s time, I will make it to Jerusalem before sunset, God willing.”
Elizabeth smiled and waved.
Zechariah proceeded with a practiced pace from making this journey dozens of times. He would be tired when he arrived, but he didn’t mind. He was going to do what he loved, serve at the temple.
Life was good for him and Elizabeth. God always provided. There was one thing. They wished they had children. They wished they had a child. Elizabeth’s hope never wavered. His did and when it did her faith propped him up. They prayed that as God opened the wombs of Sarah, Rachel and Hannah he would open Elizabeth’s womb and give them a child. If God wished. So far, He had not wished. There was some disappointment, but not bitterness. Zechariah was getting good at beating back the doubt. He wished he were better at believing. He loved Elizabeth. He would pray.
Each day in Jerusalem started early for the priests. The chief priest assigned them all duties. There was one duty everyone wanted, to go into the Holy Place and offer incense to the Lord. Only two priests did this each day. It was such a privilege that a priest only did it once. There were hundreds of priests available, so they cast lots to determine who got to do it. Many never did it. Zechariah had never done it.
The room echoed with muffled conversations. Friends shared small-talk as they waited for assignments. Every time they gathered, Zechariah felt a child-like excitement hoping he would get to offer incense to the Lord that day.
They started. A hush settled over the room. First, they assigned a priest to care for the temple lamps. Another to provide the shewbread. Next a priest was assigned to receive the free-will offerings. On it went. Various duties assigned name by name. They didn’t call Zechariah’s name.
They saved the most desirable duties, those that took place inside the temple, for last. They called a priest to prepare the incense. They called a priest to remove the ashes from the inner altar. They selected a priest to handle the ashes from the candlestick. Zechariah wait but didn’t hear his name.
Finally, they would choose two priests to offer incense, one for the morning and one for the evening. Everyone stood motionless. Some held their breath. The only thing Zechariah could hear was his heartbeat.
Zachariah closed his eyes and prayed as he had many times. “Holy God, look upon me with favor and give me the privilege of serving in this duty as a gracious gift.” They read the name for the morning sacrifice. It wasn’t his. They drew the last name.
It happened! He would burn the incense before the altar in the Holy place! Thanks be to God!
He wished Elizabeth were in Jerusalem! He would run and tell her this wonderful news. Friends surrounded him, congratulated him. He was grateful, excited, and anxious for this privilege. He wanted to do it right. What a special day!
He and the priest who would offer the morning incense began to prepare. Priests who assisted the High priest taught them what to do. They described each step, every detail. He absorbed the instructions. He visualized what he would do. He practiced over and over. With God’s help, he would make no mistakes.
It was time for the morning sacrifice. They went to the temple. He joined the crowd outside the temple. He watched as the priest leading them did everything in order. He entered the holy place.
Those gathered outside the temple offered prayers to God. Zechariah’s visualized what the priest was doing at that moment. Then, when he expected, the priest stepped out.
He stood before the people and said, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
And all the people said, “Amen!”
Zechariah sighed and relaxed. He hadn’t realized how anxious he had been for his fellow priest. He had done well. Zechariah returned to his room. He spent the day rehearsing, fasting, praying, worshiping and waiting.
Hours later someone knocked on his door. It was time. He returned to the temple and put on the priestly garments. He did everything as instructed. He received the incense. He entered the holy place. It was more beautiful than he imagined. He placed the incense on the altar and watched as the smoke ascended like the prayers of the saints. He heard the people praying. He asked God to hear their prayers.
He was ready to leave when he remembered Elizabeth’s words. “And for us, will you pray for us?”
He told her he would pray. So, he did. “Lord, if it be your will, look upon me and my wife with favor and give us a son.”
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:11-20
The angel disappeared. Zechariah didn’t move. Did that happen? He looked around. He was alone. Had he seen a vision? Was it his imagination? Did he see the angel Gabriel?
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. Luke 1:21
He left the Holy place. The next thing was to pray God’s blessing.
When he came out, he could not speak to them. Luke 1:22
He tried to pray, but no words came out. It was as Gabriel said. He didn’t imagine it!
The people realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
Priests huddled around him and peppered him with questions. He wanted to answer but he couldn’t.
He was back in his room. He didn’t remember changing out of his priestly garments or walking there. His mind raced. He saw Gabriel. They would have a son. He would be great, a forerunner to the Messiah! He laid awake most of the night. Praise God.
He served the rest of his time as he normally did. Many asked him questions that he wanted to answer but he couldn’t. Everyone would know in time.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. Luke 1:23
What he would tell Elizabeth? Actually, he couldn’t tell her anything. Maybe that didn’t matter. They had been married so long she often knew what he was thinking! How did women do that?
It would be a guessing game, like with the priests.
Elizabeth met him, waving and smiling just like when he left. They hugged. “How are you? How was your time of service?” she asked.
He pointed to his throat and mouthed the words, “I can’t talk.”
Alarmed she said, “Are you sick? Sit down. I’ll get something to sooth your throat.”
He stopped her, shaking his head.
“What? What’s going on?”
He again pointed to his throat.
“I know your throat is bothering you. What’s wrong?” she implored.
Zechariah signed. It would be a long nine months. He again mouthed the words, “I can’t talk.”
“Oh, right, you can’t tell me. You can’t talk. Otherwise do you feel okay?” she asked?
“Okay, was it a good trip otherwise?” she asked.
Again, he nodded.
“Fine,” she said. “You get unpacked. I know you’re tired and hungry. Since you can’t talk, I’ll tell you what happened when you were away.”
Over the next few days, Elizabeth and her friends tried every remedy they could imagine for his voice. Zechariah endured them all. He also listened more than ever in his life.
Day and weeks passed. One day Elizabeth came and sat beside him. She looked and him but said nothing.
His eyes widened expecting her to say something.
She smiled. “Zechariah, I have to tell you something.”
Her smile made him smile. He leaned and turned his ear toward her.
He didn’t intend for her to come close, but she did. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered in his ear.
He leaned back. Their eyes locked. He mouthed, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Their smiles gave way to an embrace which gave way to tears of joy.
Then she pulled back, hands on his shoulders at arm’s length. “Did losing your voice have anything to do with this?”
“Zechariah!?” she asked again.
“Will you be able to speak again?”
She sighed. “Then I will wait to hear the rest of the story. Now let us give thanks to the Lord, he has heard our prayers!”
After this Elizabeth remained in seclusion [for five months].
25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:24-25
Little by little Elizabeth pieced together what happened. God confirmed this during a visit by her cousin Mary. That’s a story for another time.
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. Luke 1:57-65
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us 72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. Luke 1:67-80