This is the story of two Jewish children, second cousins whose mothers experienced the power of the Most High God in a direct and personal way. One boy was prayed for fervently so that a childless couple could have an heir and escape the disdainful judgement of their community. One boy was perhaps just a dream to a teenage girl who was only promised in marriage to a tradesman in her community. No other children in history ever had the impact on the world that these two boys did and while the junior one was greater as described by his cousin, the other gathered people throughout the land to prepare them to receive the Messiah.
Zacharias was a priest in the course of Abijah which would have placed him in the temple in Jerusalem, in serving his duties as the incense burner in the month of June from approximately the 13th through the 20th. As he carries out his duties he is visited by God's messenger Gabriel who tells him his wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear a son whom they will name John. Luke 1:17 tells us: "And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah...to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." At the conclusion of his week of service, Zacharias observes the sabbath, then departs on the 30 mile walking journey to his house. Scholars estimate the date of John's conception to be June 24-25.
Luke 1:26-33 goes on to Chronicle the visitation of Gabriel, in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy to a young virgin named Mary whose mother was a sister to Elizabeth's mother. The angel said that Mary had found favor with God and that he had chosen her to conceive and bear a son whose name Yeshua means saviour of his people. Luke 1:33 states: "And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Mary replies: "I am the handmaid of the LORD, let it be done to me as you have said." The date of Gabriel's visit and Mary's acceptance of the power of the Most High is December 24-25. She bore her firstborn son nine months later, while travelling with her husband to the city of his ancestor King David for enumeration and taxation ordered by the emperor Cesar Augustus.
What we celebrate tomorrow is the coming of Emmanual, the word made flesh, God is with us. While both Zacharias and Mary were fearful at the appearance of God's messenger, both recalled the admonition of God the Father to Joshua to be strong and of good courage. They both discovered that as the angel declared: "For with God nothing is impossible." As we celebrate Christmas let us open the room in our hearts and invite Christ to dwell within us.