Sample Chapter 1
An Unexpected Visitor
The priest moved quietly towards the temple, praying silently under his breath as he walked. He smiled at the children, playing in the streets and reflected upon his own misfortune of not having any of his own. Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, had tried in vain during their youth, to conceive one of these gifts from God. Now it was too late, they were well passed their childbearing years. Well, that was not entirely true, neither he nor Elizabeth, were as old as Abram and Sarai were when they were promised a child.
“Perhaps…,” Zacharias thought to himself. He shook his head to clear the thoughts away. “Such a thing had not happened again in hundreds of years. Why would God choose me for something like this? Yes, we are devout, we have led a blameless life, but still…,” Zacharias continued to consider such possibilities as he entered the temple, ready to reside there for the following week.
Twice a year, the priests of the eighth course, Abijah, were required to serve for a week within the temple (apart from the major festivals when all were required to be on hand). He would reside within the temple grounds in one of the side chambers for the week and return home, to Elizabeth, once his service was complete.
For a man of eighty four years, he was surprised that he had made such a quick trip from Ein Kerem. The trek in from the south of the city was tiring for an old man but living in the hill country had great rewards. Their little community was secluded and they could enjoy God’s country in peace and quiet, unlike the rush that he felt in the big city of Jerusalem.
More and more time was being spent in their summer home, now that his Temple duties were over…, well, supposed to be over. It was unusual to be recalled but the building and renovating that was happening in the outer courts and colonnades had required the younger priests’ assistance. Especially if they were to complete the construction before the next Passover began. That meant the older priests were being recalled to perform the Temple duties so the younger ones could do the physical labour.
Zacharias entered the Court of Priests and was immediately approached by Annas. Zacharias wasn’t sure what it was but something about Annas always made him feel uneasy.
“Zacharias, welcome back,” Annas said in greeting.
“Annas, it is a pleasure to be back,” replied Zacharias.
“I am in charge of placements,” Annas said, getting straight to the point. “I have placed you in the closest chamber, in respect of your years of service.”
“Thank you, Annas,” Zacharias replied in earnest. “It was a long walk here and I welcome the shorter journey that will provide each day I am here.”
“I will let you go and rest then and start your preparations for service. We will be drawing the lots in the morning to appoint the tasks,” Annas advised.
“Thank you, I will be there,” replied Zacharias.
The two priests turned and went their separate ways. Annas went in search of more arriving priests and Zacharias to his chamber to rest and say prayers.
The next morning came quicker than Zacharias would have liked but he rose and performed his morning duties as required. Once completed, he made his way to the Court of Priests. There was a familiar group already gathered there, waiting for the rest of the priests to join them.
It wasn’t long before they were all there and the High Priest, Eleazer, began the drawing of the lots. First drawing was the most exciting. It was the lot for the burning of the incense in the Holy Place. Each priest was given only one opportunity to perform this during his life time because there were so many priests. As yet, Zacharias had never picked the lot for this task. He watched in anticipation as the lots were passed around. First Matthias picked… then Joshua, Ishmael and Simon. None of them had drawn the lot and it was almost Zacharias’ turn. Maybe coming back would be a blessing and he would finally get the chance to help prepare the Holy Place for the daily sacrifice.
Three more of his fellow Abijah priests had chosen and now it was his turn. He said a quick prayer as he reached out for the remaining lots. He tried to control the excitement that was building in him as he took a lot in his hand. He looked at Eleazer as he withdrew it and handed it to him. Eleazer smiled as he took the lot offered to him and held it aloft.
“Zacharias will burn the incense and prepare the Holy Place,” Eleazer announced.
The priests congratulated Zacharias on the honour that was bestowed upon him and Zacharias couldn’t help but smile.
Eleazer helped him forward and whispered in his ear, “Congratulations old friend, finally the honour is yours.”
“I will honour the Lord who has honoured me,” Zacharias replied.
Eleazer smiled and advised Zacharias to go and prepare to enter the Holy Place.
Zacharias quickly departed for his chamber to do just that.
An hour later, Zacharias was entering the Holy Place, to offer prayers and purify the area with the smoke of incense. As he performed his duties, he suddenly felt a presence with him. Not any ordinary presence but that of one who is sent from above.
Zacharias could not help but be afraid, his body started to tremble and he had to look away. To the right of the golden altar was an angel.
“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer has been heard,” the angel spoke. “You and your wife will have a son and you shall call his name John.”
Zacharias was shocked. His prayer and thoughts from yesterday…
“You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,” the angel continued. “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”
“But how…,” Zacharias thought.
The angel was not finished yet and went on, “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zacharias looked up slightly and asked, “But how shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years too.”
The angel’s eyes burned brightly, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. I was sent to speak with you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will not be able to speak until the day these things take place because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their own time!”
Then Gabriel shone brightly, so bright that Zacharias had to look away. When the light subsided, Gabriel was gone, leaving Zacharias alone in the Holy Place.
Zacharias hurried and completed his tasks as swiftly as he could.
Outside, his fellow priests were waiting, wondering what was taking Zacharias so long. Some were suggesting that someone so old should not have been given this task. How could they check on him when only one was allowed in the Holy Place at once they wondered?
When Zacharias came out, he was asked many questions about what had taken so long but Zacharias could not answer. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. No sound at all. So he made signs with his hands and tried to demonstrate that he had seen an angel.
Zacharias did not know if they understood what he was trying to tell them. Some thought he had experienced some sort of mental problem. He was taken to Eleazer, the high priest, and left alone.
Eleazer didn’t understand all that Zacharias tried to convey to him but he did work out that he had perceived a vision while in the Holy Place.
Zacharias was taken to his chamber to rest and recover but the next morning he found he was still mute.
At the end of the week, when he had completed his official duties, Zacharias went home. Not long after, Elizabeth became pregnant. As it was unusual for a seventy year old woman to be pregnant, they decided it would be better for her to remain hidden. They stayed, therefore, at the summer house and within the little community there.