There are butterflies in my stomach, a rasp in my voice. So many years I have waited, yet I am almost afraid to go in.
I will be alone, I think, though you can never be sure in this place. It is, after all, a place of meeting – if a man stepping into a lion’s den can be called a meeting. A lion no one can see.
Two priests and one king he has devoured for doing what I will do. No, for doing it wrong, I remind myself. He is not unfair. Yet he is still a lion.
I take a quick breath, rest one hand against the other to slow their trembling, and I wait. I am too old to be this nervous, and too alone. My life is narrow and still. No children, no grandchildren. Just my wrinkled wife and I, living out our days. My wrinkled wife, who still stares as mothers pass, children in their arms – who stares as one starving, though we are past our years and there is no more hope.
Will the great Lion receive me, this dried-up old priest who cannot even father a child?
I walk unsteadily toward the door and step into the temple, peer into the golden, glowing Holy Place. I am to burn incense on the altar which stands across the room. Behind the altar hangs the great, thick curtain – blue, purple, and red, with embroidered angels staring back at me. Behind that, the holiest and most dangerous place of all.
I pause for an instant, remind myself to breathe, and take a few steps forward, but something goes wrong. There is a flash, a sudden glare from the golden walls, and I freeze in astonishment. There, by the altar, something stands – not a picture, but a moving creature, bright and tall.
“Don’t be afraid,” it said, which struck me as unreasonable. Dazzled and blinking, I squinted at the brilliant form, shielding my eyes with quivering hands.
“Zechariah, your prayers have been heard, and Elizabeth will have her joy. You will have a son, and you are to name him John. He will turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children, and the children toward the Lord, their God.”
“But… but how can that be?” I sputtered. “We’re too old.”
Well, that was a mistake.
“I am Gabriel,” he said soberly and glued my lips closed for months to come. Until, in fact, the day my wrinkled wife laughed with tears running down her face, surrounded by friends, our baby boy in her arms.
By then, bright Gabriel had appeared also to Mary and she, at least, believed him. A chill runs up my spine to think of it. The sun is rising on God’s ancient promise to lead us out of death and darkness, and the child in Mary’s womb – God’s own Messiah – will accomplish this.
These are things too great for me, for I was a priest of the great Lion of Judah, trembling to go before him, and afraid he had forgotten my name.
But I am different now, for I have felt the tender mercy of our God, who hears our prayers and forgets no one.
This story is a dramatization of Luke 1 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%201&version=NIV)
“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,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God.”
Note: 2 Chronicles 26:18 and Leviticus 10:1-2 tell of a king and two priests who were punished for incorrectly performing this procedure.