21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.’ (Luke 1:21-25)
Another group of people have had to wait throughout Zechariah’s encounter with Gabriel in the temple: the worshippers (v.10). I believe that Scripture contains a remarkable blend of comical and more serious, even tragic, moments. Here, we see both aspects. We can imagine the crowd waiting in anticipation for Zechariah to come out (v.21) – maybe even growing frustration; people singing choruses of “why are we waiting?” Zechariah eventually emerges, but is unable to speak and resorts to gestures instead (v.22). Perhaps this was the first ever game of Christmas charades! It is somewhat comical but there is a more serious aspect; Zechariah has had a vision, an encounter in the temple with the Lord, and the worshippers quickly realise that he has been significantly impacted. God can communicate in this way through visions and encounters, and often the authenticity of such an experience can be discerned through someone’s being changed in some way – perhaps a changed attitude or character. Admittedly, it is very uncommon for someone to lose the ability to speak, as in Zechariah’s case; but, here, it is God’s means of showing that Zechariah has had an encounter.
Attention now turns to Elizabeth. Despite her faithful life, she would, at times, have felt her existence was sorrowful, even slightly tragic, given her inability to conceive and the severe stigma attached to this socially. Comedies always have happy outcomes, and often there is some relief as a potentially tragic situation is averted. Elizabeth models how to react in moments of relief and happiness. She is not boastful, telling all and sundry, but retires from the limelight, giving God centre stage: he is the one who has done it (vv.24-5). She recognises that God has looked upon her and removed the disgrace she felt from the people, although not from God: He looks upon us more graciously than anyone could.