From: All God’s Angels
Once when Zechariah was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:8-19)
The dramatic story of God’s relationship with the world would not be possible without the presence and work of the angels. Throughout the Old Testament we have seen examples of the timely and pivotal role they play in bringing about God’s purposes, protecting God’s people, and announcing God’s will. From the time of creation, angels have been both witnesses to and participants in God’s plan for the redemption of the world. Moreover, their involvement is carried out in ways that are specifically designed to the needs and personalities of the individual men and women to whom they are sent. Because they are messengers from God, they direct the personal attention of God onto everyone they address and help. Angels are not Heaven-bound strategists, making plans to help the human race while safely distant from its pain and trouble. Again and again the Bible records their presence among us, their presence with us. It is close, and it is personal. They even call us by name, as did Gabriel with the old priest Zechariah.
“Do not be afraid,” Zechariah.” With this personal address the events surrounding the coming of Christ commence – events that will include many, many angels. This angel knows Zechariah, his wife, Elizabeth, and their yet-to-be-conceived son, John. Despite the fact that Zechariah is in the temple to meet God, it is readily apparent that he is neither expecting nor ready to believe such a direct response to his prayers. Can we suppose that the angels enjoy surprising us with such news?
Zechariah’s is not the only name we hear in this encounter. Scriptural accounts of angelic visitations do not usually include a personal introduction, but this one does: “I am Gabriel.” The name comes from a Hebrew word meaning, “man of God,” sometimes translated, “strength of God.” We first encounter Gabriel by name when God addresses him by name and instructs him to reveal to the prophet Daniel the meaning of his visions, (Daniel 8:15-17). From other writings, we have come to know Gabriel as one of the archangels, the chief messengers and warriors of the Heavenly host.
Gabriel’s message to Zechariah gives us one of the clearest of all explanations for the work of God’s messengers: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” The good news announced to Zechariah is only the introduction to the good news that is soon to be announced to the world. One of the mightiest of the angels comes to one of the weakest of men, and by this means God begins once again to accomplish his will. Origin said that the coming of Christ into the world was “a great joy for those to whom the care of men and nations had been entrusted.” We cannot know when the angels first knew that joy, but we can dare to imagine that Gabriel’s mission to Zechariah must have inspired some of it.