Having been unable to speak for the nine months or so between his encounter with Gabriel and the promised birth of John, Zechariah is inspired to speak prophetically about his son’s future ministry.
John’s birth is an occasion for great rejoicing as neighbours and relatives join in. There is an air of intrigue about the whole business, with people wondering what the future holds for this newborn boy.
Zechariah had had plenty of time to reflect on the words of Gabriel. His son would be great before the Lord, he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, he would have a ministry of restoration and would go before the Lord in the spirit of Elijah. He would be the Lord’s forerunner. Now Zechariah had something to add.
His prophecy starts by recognising what God has done. In the birth of John, God has remembered his promises.
Then he talks about the ministry that awaits John in the future (was he holding his son in his arms as he spoke?), echoing Gabriel’s (and Malachi’s) words about preparing a way for the Lord. John’s ministry will herald the dawning of a bright future, as as the sun will rise (more echoes of Malachi) to give light to those in darkness.
John’s future would be amazing not least because it would connect with the hopes and promises of the past. The long-awaited redemption was dawning.
But John was not the final word.
Think of it like this. You have been on a long journey that has taken you halfway around the world. You have several flights to get home, and the best part of twenty hours to travel. When your plane lands, you know you are home – at least more or less. You are not actually home when you get to the airport, but you are almost there.
With the birth of John the Baptist, the long wait is almost over, but not quite. The journey from Old Testament promise was almost done, but not quite. While John would grow up to be the prophet of the Most High (72), his task was to prepare the way for the Son of the Most High.
The birth of Messiah was now just 6 months away.