While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” (Luke 1:11–18 NLT)
Zechariah was a man of God. He was a Levite, one of the few chosen to work in the Temple. This meant he was well-versed in the Scriptures and familiar with the stories of his forefathers. We know he recognized the angel as a messenger of God because his initial response, that of fear and trembling, was typical of others in the Bible who have been visited by angels. We know he would have been intimately familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah and how they gave birth to Isaac despite their advanced years. Abraham was the father of the faith; every good Jew knew this story by heart.
However, his response – “How can I be sure this will happen?” – was not one informed by his years of learning or by his deep knowledge of the Scriptures or even by his shock at suddenly being in the presence of a heavenly being. Rather, his response seems to have been driven by a deep cynicism, a pessimistic outlook that asks questions driven by doubt.
Like Zechariah, we can walk through this world choosing to let our cynicism guide us, to look for the things that prove our cynicism correct. This ultimately pays a dark toll on our souls. What would it look like instead if we chose to seek out and look for the good – to let hope and love and mercy guide our steps rather than our cynical hearts? It is true we will inevitability be disappointed. Yet to live in this more difficult space where we cling to hope – not the false hope of those who are lost and cannot find their way home but the hope of those who know the Lord is on their side – this will allow our souls to truly blossom and grow in God’s goodness and grace.