(This is an adaptation of Luke 1:5-25.)
I’ll never forget his face.
The moment he stepped over the threshold, a ray of sunlight shining through a window struck his brow, and for just an instant, he looked as though he’d been in the company of angels. And my heart fluttered.
“Zechariah?” Spoken more as a question, my voice sounded unfamiliar in my ears. Of course it was Zechariah–my husband who’d been away for days, the one I’d missed, for whom I’d longed.
Taking another step, the sun’s ray shifted, and I could see him fully–that face I’d known, each mark and line, for many years. The scar just above his right eye told the story of the time when, just a boy, he’d been struck by a rock thrown by a friend in our small village. The age spot near his left temple–this I’d only noticed in the not so distant past, had run my finger over it, asked a question as I traced a trail southward, stopping on the tip of his bearded chin. “Would you still … choose me?”
I remember that night of the setting sun some months earlier. My voice broke before I could finish, and Zechariah knew. He understood. His one-word answer spoken in the dimly lit room was all my heart needed to begin beating once more. “Yes.” And dust specks caught in candlelight were diamonds again–no longer the ash of momentary mourning.
Our life had been difficult, though a delight, too, to be sure. Where we are different in many ways, the similarities of our upright spirits, our desire for righteousness, bound us tightly, made us–yes, kept us–kindred. Such was the God-given material–raw and determined–that got us through the tough times. Saw us past the ridicule. Guided us into and through dark valleys of judgement. And there was that, for certain–even from those who loved us most, held us closest. After all, to be barren was a curse–an indication of God’s blessing removed, or, at the very least, detained. And such was a blemish on our lives, making many speculate concerning our plight.
“But what about babies?” my own mother had cried in pleading tones nearly a decade after we’d married. And all I could do was hold my face in my hands and weep, so desolate was I. In honesty, despite my own priestly lineage, I’d shaken fists at Abba more times than I care to admit. His withholding of fruit from my womb seemed cruel–something I simply could not understand. Most days in those early years of marriage, my ethnic righteousness hung like rags, my face downcast, like my soul.
Only Zechariah understood the depth of my despair. Only he heard the desperate cries of my heart, and he, too, pleaded on my behalf, though not just for me. His heart, like mine, was broken, and he wasn’t free from the condemnation of others. For him, to be an active priest of the Lord Most High and not have children, evidence of God’s supposed disfavor–well, I know he suffered too. Yet, in some merciful measure, this was Abba’s plan for our unity, that which bound us more closely together–a cord of three strands not easily broken.
Still, even with Zechariah’s love, my heart yearned to see him cut the life cord upon the delivery of a child. To hear our baby’s cry. To see our son or daughter grow–become all that Abba intended. And yet, with the passing of years, this dream went unfulfilled, though my love for God, by His grace, only grew. My love for Zechariah also. And though a piece of my heart threatened to callous, grow tough to broken dreams, somehow God grew good and beautiful things from our life–namely, a deeper desire to pursue Him. To pursue holiness.
And time went on.
So on this particular day–the day the sun danced on his cheeks, made him appear like a friend of angels–my aged hands took his face, and I held it, saw again the story scar from our childhood, the more recent age spot of our many years. I took him all in in those holy moments and sensed something was different, though he’d only been gone a handful of days.
Stepping back, I spoke his name again. “Zechariah?”
But silence. My question was met, not with an audible answer but, rather, with his stone-hard stare. And what I saw as I looked in his eyes was an earnestness that nearly scared me. So intent, with a passion I’d not seen in many years–not since our love was new, before the heartache of barrenness made me bitter cold for a season, robbed us of the heat of our summer. Though I’d warmed over time, discovered again pure desire in the gift God had given–no longer holding out hope that our love might produce life–our age took its toll, no doubt. More and more, our love expressed itself in lying close, in whispers in the night, in our ever-growing union with God as central. Such was our unity–tried and true.
And such was beautiful.
But this was different. This was fueled by a fire I’d not see in our lifetime, not even in our earliest days. Zechariah’s eyes were locked with mine as he took a step back. In doing so, he stepped once again into sun–the ray lighting his head. His gaze, too, shifted, washed over me–all of me–as he took my hands in his own. Only his lips moved Elizabeth–though no sound, not even breath.
His own silence seemed to startle him, and he looked wildly about the room for something upon which to write that his message might be conveyed. Seeing the table where I’d been grinding flour and kneading dough only minutes before he’d arrived, he led the way. Letting go my hand, he leaned over my work, and with one finger in fresh flour, he began to form the letters, and my eager eyes followed.
An. Angel. Visited. Me … He wrote one word at a time, erasing each only after he was certain I’d understood.
I repeated the phrase aloud, “An angel visited you?”
Zechariah’s desperate nod told me there was more. In. The. Holy. Place …
“In the Holy Place … you saw an angel?” The reality of the sacred nature of his words hung between my heart and mind.
More nodding. More writing. He. Told. Me. My. Doubt. Has. Silenced. Me …
My mind raced. I searched my husband’s face trying to comprehend. Zechariah had seen an angel–yes, while fulfilling his duties in the inner sanctuary. “You were visited by an angel in the Holy Place?” The repetition of this question helped me make sense of my husband’s words. “And now you can’t speak–because of doubt? But what did you doubt?”
Zechariah’s eyes brimmed with tears. Were they tears of mourning? Of joy?
Once more, he wrote in the dust of bread. The. Angel. Announced. That …
Zechariah’s finger stopped. With both hands gripping the table’s edge, he leaned hard against the wood. His head fell forward, and I saw his shoulders shake. He was weeping. Zechariah was weeping. I placed my hand upon his back, felt warmth.
He turned then, took me in his arms, held me so tightly I feared I might break. I could feel his heart beating in his chest, and mine, too, drummed a poem. A duet–like we’d always been.
Suddenly, he released me. Returning again to the table, he wrote one last time, just five words. Five miraculous words that made the world stop and start in a second.
We will have a son.
There. He brushed off his hands, then turned to face me again. Though slightly bent, slowly he stood–unfolding tall, taller still. Squaring his shoulders, this old man I’ve loved for nearly a lifetime looked younger to me in that moment than ever before.
And this old woman? Though not made mute, I, too, was silent for some time, but by choice. When I finally spoke, the resounding song on my lips was and is proclaimed often, to many, to any who’ll hear–
The Lord has done this for me. In these days, he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people (Luke 1:25).
Mostly, I sing to Zechariah, which always makes him smile behind silent lips. Their only sound for this season is the song of his tender kisses, his hands often caressing my swollen middle.
Just to be sure. Just to be certain.
Together we dream of the day Zechariah will cut the life cord–when we’ll hear our baby’s cry, see our son grow. To see just who Abba wants John–God’s Gift–to be.
Yes, a song of three chords, soon to be four.
As I said, I will never forget his face.