I noticed something odd when I read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 1. The archangel Gabriel makes a priest temporarily mute. The oddity was in the question, why?

But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Luke 1:20 NLT

The angel’s “visit,” that resulted in a temporary speechlessness, does not appear to bless Zachariah. What did Zachariah do for the angel from God to make him unable to speak or sing?

Zachariah may have been one of 20,000 priests in Jerusalem at this time. They would cast lots to find who would be the next incense burner. Zachariah was chosen. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to enter the holy place and burn incense before God. There must have been a huge anticipation in Zachariah’s heart as to what would happen.

Every morning and evening the incense was burned on the golden altar each time by a different priest. As the sun arose, worshipers would gather at the temple. The incense priest would enter the outer courts and strike the Magrepha; a gong-like instrument that apparently made one thousand tones and could be heard ten miles away in Jericho.

At the sound of this "call to worship," Levites would gather in the outer court and prepare to lead the people in worship songs. The three priests chosen for the morning would enter the holy place together. One to bring and arrange the coals on the golden altar, the other to arrange the incense, and the third to do the burning. The first two would exit the holy place and the incense priest was left alone in the Holy Place.

The only light was the golden lamp stand on the left and the table of showbread stood on the right. Behind the altar of incense was the large thick curtain behind which was the Ark of the Covenant and the revealed presence of God. What was about to happen would change Zachariah's life.

When the two priests exited the Holy Place, hundreds of worshipers would kneel before the Lord and lift their hands in prayer. Everyone knew the offering of the incense had begun and considered it a sacred moment of prayer. Zachariah lingered there sending incense and prayers to God. It was at that moment that Gabriel left the throne of God and suddenly appeared on the right side of the incense altar.

Zachariah was overwhelmed with fear. The messenger angel said, “Don’t be afraid!” Calming Zachariah enough to receive the message he had for him—your wife Elizabeth will become pregnant with a son; you will call him John and he will bring you great joy. That’s when Zachariah said, “How can I be sure this will happen as you said?"

Gabriel was declaring the promise that Elizabeth would have a child. Zachariah doubted that was possible because of her age which prompted the angel to act. Gabriel says, “Because you did not believe, you will be without speech until the child is born” (v 13–22).

This may appear to be punishment, but Jack Hayford suggests it “involves a greater idea than vindictiveness for unbelief. Rather, the angel’s action is a lesson in the amazing power of our speech.” As beings made in God’s image, He has given us the privilege of “laying hold of” or “claiming” His promises. Zachariah was a righteous man obeying all the commandments of God yet now in this sacred moment he spoke in unbelief.

Our speaking in faith what God has said has the ability of bringing the power of His Word to bear upon life’s specific situations. The opposite is also true. Doubt has the power to dissolve the potential of a promise, at least as it might have applied to us. Thus, the angel neutralized Zachariah's ability to express doubt until the promised baby was born.

This Christmastime I want to encourage you to silence your doubt and any negative talk. Let our mouths be filled with the power of praise to receive God’s works of grace. Fill our hearts and homes with faith and joy. This is a time to believe and declare God’s promises.

Has this encouragement helped you? I would like to hear from you. Comment below.

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