Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Elizabeth’s pregnancy in her old age had been much talked about in Ain Karim and possibly beyond it. Coupled with the loss of speech in Zechariah, it was definitely something so unusual as to border on the unbelievable: Curious people had so many questions to ask that Elizabeth decided it was better to remain barricaded in her house.

And perhaps she herself had her own questions: What if all that was just a self-delusion? What if “the thing” that was developing in her womb was not a baby but a tumor? And, if it was a baby, was it going to be “normal” or deformed? Stories abounded of children born late in life who were born handicapped either physically or mentally.

Nor was Zechariah of much help to her. All along, the poor man was clamped in a barrier of silence that made communication even more difficult. He, too, had his hard questions to grapple with, as he kept wondering where he had gone wrong and how all the big things said by the angel about the boy to be born could become a reality.

The visit of Mary with all that happened during the first encounter had done much to dispel doubts. The Holy Spirit had clarified many things to all and confirmed that, indeed, the child that Elizabeth was carrying was the object of God’s special design. Uncertainty and anxiety had given way to hope and expectation.

And when finally the baby was born, everything turned out better than expected. The baby was a boy, as the Angel had foretold. He was perfectly healthy and his presence filled the hearts of his mother and father with unspeakable happiness, even as he filled the house with his shrills of liveliness.

God had indeed kept His promise! The whole event became for everybody a source of rejoicing and celebration, more than any ordinary birth. The door of Zechariah’s house was flung open to welcome neighbors, relatives, and friends who crowded in to see for themselves the wonder of the newborn baby and share the happiness of his over-seasoned but overjoyed parents.

Everybody was bursting with joy, especially Elizabeth. All her doubts and uncertainties had vanished. Now she felt as happy and fulfilled as any mother does when she gives birth to her first child. Zechariah also was deeply happy. But his happiness could only be seen. It could not be heard, for the poor man was still unable to speak. Everybody pitied him, but Zechariah kept clinging to a last branch of hope as he looked forward to the fulfillment of the last part of the Angel’s promise. His dumbness, in fact, was not supposed to last for ever but only until what the Angel had announced would come to pass . . . (See Lk 1:20.)

Even that final cloud dissipated on the day of John’s circumcision, eight days after his birth. All kept debating about the merits of Elizabeth’s proposal to name the child “John” (God is gracious), rather than “Zechariah Junior,” as the tradition would have mandated. The elderly father could not participate in the debate, for his lips were still sealed. But he had the key to the solution, for he was the one who had the legal right to decide on the child’s name. “His name is John,” he wrote solemnly on the tablet they had handed to him.

The short sentence did much more than settle the dispute on his son’s name. It was a profession of faith in God’s goodness. This is why it loosened the bounds that had been fettering Zechariah’s tongue since the vision in the Temple. For the first time after nine months, everybody could
hear his voice as he praised the Lord for his perfect faithfulness to His promises.

Zechariah’s miraculous recovery of his ability to talk capped the series of extraordinary events that had surrounded the conception and birth of the child. Clearly, through those happenings, God was sending a message not only to Zechariah and Elizabeth, but to a much greater audience. God was in action, preparing something even more marvelous to be manifested in the future.

What such a “marvelous thing” would be was anybody’s guess. So people kept asking, “What will this child be?” The question had already been answered by the angel in the temple. The people would see the fulfillment of that additional promise thirty years later. Zechariah and Elizabeth were no longer around when that prophecy also was fulfilled. But as they closed their eyes to the light of the sun, they did not have the least doubt that what the angel said would come to pass in its own time. They knew by experience that God always keeps His promises. This is something we, too, should never forget.