This extremely important chapter of the Bible is made up entirely of Holy Spirit-inspired content that is exclusive to Luke. It covers several events that occurred before the birth of Jesus, all carrying the authenticity of eyewitness testimony (v.2-4). About half of the chapter focuses on the announcement of John’s birth and the balance focuses on Jesus.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are introduced as exemplary believers with righteous hearts and blameless behavior (v.6). Like their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, they were elderly and childless, though they had prayed for a son.
As a priest, it was Zechariah’s turn to be stationed in Jerusalem for a round of Temple service. While he was burning incense in the Holy Place (probably a once-in-a-lifetime privilege), the angel Gabriel appeared to announce that Elizabeth would have a son. The angel explained that the boy would be named John and that he would be an extra-special man with an extra-special purpose: John would be a prophet (like Elijah, v.17) and would lead a revival in Israel.
This was too much for old Zechariah. Face-to-face with an angel, he voiced his doubts that it could happen. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah would not voice anything else for nine months.
Zechariah learned a lot in his silence. When John was born and he was able to talk again, his first words were an eloquent expression of faith and praise. Unbelief had closed his mouth, faith opened it again. The prophetic section in verses 76-79 is beautiful and hopeful. It is clear that Zechariah believed his newborn son was the prophet of the Messiah, and that the yet-to-be-born Jesus was that Messiah.
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy Gabriel made another birth announcement, this time to a virgin young woman named Mary. The angel’s message was shocking: Mary would become pregnant without the participation of a sexual partner, which is scientifically impossible — but “nothing will be impossible with God” (v.37)!
Gabriel used unmistakably Messianic language in reference to Mary’s miracle son: Son of the Most High, King, Son of David, Son of God. In spite of the impossibility of the angel’s announcement and the unlikely choice of a “humble servant” (v.48) to give birth to a King, Mary believed (v.45). Her simple statement of faith is a timeless example of surrender: “Let it be to me according to Your word” (v.38).
Mary’s song of praise in verses 46-55, traditionally called the Magnificat, is beautiful and full of hope. Mary recognized the significance of what was happening in her: God was fulfilling the promise He had made to Abraham many years before (v.55). God was sending His mercy to the world (v.50)! Thank God for His mercy expressed in His Son, Jesus!
Before you continue your day, take a moment to re-read Luke 1:79 and pray your response to God — your own Magnificat.