Contemplating the Visitation with Zechariah
Alexander, Andy, S.J.
Waldron, Maureen McCann
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Text from the first half of "Contemplating the Visitation with Zechariah"But when Zechariah came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home to his wife, Elizabeth. Luke 1: 22-23 She is so beautiful, my Elizabeth. For so many years we have shared our married bed, and for so many years she cried to me, "Zechariah! Why can't we have children? My heart is breaking," and I would hold her gently as she sobbed the deep loss only a barren woman can know. The long years of childless life for her were difficult, but in her great beauty and faith, she held her head high and rejoiced with others at the births of their children. The great sadness that we shared as husband and wife also bound us together even more closely in our love of God.Whenever it was my turn to do my priestly service at the temple, she always reminded me to bring the prayer that was a part of our lives. Of course I took it to the Lord. "Please, for my sake and for my beautiful Elizabeth, give us a child," I would beg. But we don't know the mind of the Lord. The prayer was never answered. And then it was. In that very odd way many months ago, as I entered the sanctuary alone, an angel, Gabriel, stood next to the altar. I was so afraid and confused. "Your prayer has been answered," he said and told me that my beloved Elizabeth would bear a child - a son! In my fear and confusion the freedom of my heart left me. I stammered out, Why? How? We are so old! I need a sign! Prove this to me. Can this be real? The sign, of course, is my silence. From that moment on, I have been unable to speak. When I came home, my Elizabeth knew that something sacred had happened. I tried to gesture to her, to write it down for her, but the words were not adequate. A child, Elizabeth! But she could not make herself believe until it became real in the weeks that followed. Such a gift from the Lord, this child. Of course we will do as Gabriel asked. We will call him John, "God's gracious gift," for surely he is.And now this visit from our Mary, our dear young cousin from Nazareth, who has been like our daughter. She is so full of grace and humor and love and I know why she is a favorite of Elizabeth's. Mary has traveled all the way from Galilee to visit us and when the two women embraced this afternoon in the doorway, Elizabeth felt the movement of our baby for the first time.Now we have finished our evening meal and I have brought out a blanket for them to share against the cool night. They have given me the seat by the fireplace. I cannot speak but love to listen to them share their lives. And then the remarkable story begins to come out. Mary tells of a visit by an angel - my Gabriel! She speaks softly as she recounts the visit for Elizabeth. She trusts Elizabeth so much and tells her of the fears and hesitation she had at that moment Gabriel presented her with the great question: Would she bear the Messiah?The Messiah! The Son of the Most High?! When he asked, Mary fought with her fears silently and then opened her heart to the Lord in prayer. Of course she would say yes. That is the difference between us. Her faith is so great for one so young. When Gabriel spoke to me, I wanted to argue and question because it made no sense. I did not trust. But now I hear about this great moment in my own home!