An Angel at the Altar: Zechariah’s Encounter with Gabriel

Blake - Zecharias and the Angel.jpeg
William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias, pen and black ink, tempera, and glue size on canvas; 1799-1800.

an angel at the altar
heaven’s glory shatters earth’s sanctity
a voice indescribable yet understandable
a promise of hope unimaginable
confusion for old Zechariah
“our age – my wife – a baby – God – now?”
his call and God’s response
no utterance or voice now
his silence itself a testimony
that speaks of the ineffable
what has happened
what is happening
the first flutter of life within Elizabeth
gestates a voice of hope for humanity


I wrote these words after reading and reflecting on Luke 1:5-25 as part of my Advent readings and shared it in my message this past Sunday. Zechariah has always struck me as a figure we all could relate to from Scripture. He encounters an angel of the Lord in the Temple, the place of all places that it seems like such a thing should happen. Yet Zechariah is so overwhelmed and confused by the message the angel brings that he doubts it could be possible. Struck dumb until the birth of the child, his silence becomes a message, even as the baby that his wife, Elizabeth, carries in her womb will be “a voice of one crying out,” directing attention to the Messiah. There is so much in here about speaking and silence, hearing and responding, as part of God’s work in relationship to humanity.

Mary, Rejoicing in God’s Mercy and Love

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that is how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is in play, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved. There is some truth to that, but the kind of love we all deeply desire is a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love.

John 3:16 is such a well-known Scripture passage because it describes God’s love as real love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life. Even as the world could potentially be condemned because of evil and injustice, God takes a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-47, 50).

That little word ‘mercy’ is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s love. As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

“My Soul Glorifies the Lord” (Magnificat)

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our journey of Advent and preaching series entitled “Canticles of Christmas” This second week of the series Kelly Erickson preached from Luke 1:46-55 on Mary’s song of praise in light of Gabriel’s announcement that we explored last week.

You can find the message outline and video below. You can access the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.’” (Luke 1:46-48)

Mary Visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)

      She goes with haste 80-100 miles south

      Both ladies are full of the Holy Spirit

       The older blesses the younger three times

      Elizabeth names the truth of the Messiah in Mary’s womb

Mary’s Song – The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-49)

      Mary is young and under the rule of the Roman Empire

      Parallelism in how Mary takes great joy in her God

      Mary contrasts herself with God

Mary Sings of the Upside-Down Kingdom (Luke 1:50-55)

     Gives a picture of the New Kingdom created by Jesus

      Shocking new order

      Continues a pattern from the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2:1-8)

      The prophets predicted this sort of kingdom (Joel 2:28-29)


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

  • Spend time taking great joy in Jesus. Exalt Him; magnify Him; adore Him. Let His character overwhelm you.
  • Practice silence. Come into God’s presence, not needing to speak, but just to be with Him. What do you see? What do you hear when you stop talking?
  • Practice Noticing. Notice what God does. Notice His actions, His fingerprints on creation, His presence in others, and His goodness in your everyday interactions with others.

“May It Be Unto Me As You Have Said” (Fiat Mihi)

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we began our journey of Advent and a new series entitled “Canticles of Christmas” This first week of the series I preached from Luke 1:26-38 on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and her stunning response.

You can find the message outline and video below. You can access the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’” (Luke 1:38)

The Miracle of God’s Plan for the World (Luke 1:26-33)

The gift of a greeting from God’s messenger

The gift of the child from God

The gift of the coming king from God

The Miracle of God’s Plan for Mary (Luke 1:34-37)

The miraculous conception

The echo of Elizabeth, her cousin, and her child

The miraculous word of God

The Miracle of Mary’s Response (Luke 1:29, 34, 38)

Her response

Her identity

Her trust

Her waiting

From perplexity to wondering to surrendering


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways: