When our kids were teenagers, they used to watch scary movies with their friends in the basement of our church. It was one of the many perks of being a PK (preacher’s kid). One night, PB decided to enhance the experience so he stealthily sneaked into the sanctuary and tip-toed up to the pipe organ. As the kids were glued to a frightening dramatic scene, directly above them came ominous discordant sounds. Somebody pushed pause on the TV remote. PB gave the organ full throttle and the lower register notes rattled the windows. He was fully prepared to hide in the crawl space under the altar if the kids came upstairs to check out the mysterious music. But that wasn’t necessary. They were gone — running down the street toward home.
I’ve been alone in a church at night and to be honest — I don’t like it. Not one bit. I know it’s God’s house and all, but there are lots of dark shadows and creepy noises and reflections in windows. There’s a reason we are told to be “children of the light”. Dark places are spooky. So I can empathize with Zechariah. I just bet that the hair on the back of his neck was standing up. He was alone in the inner court, illumined only by flickering candlelight. This was his one and only chance to enter into the holy place, so close to the very presence of God. It was one of those “goose-bump” moments.
“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.” Luke 1:11-12
Anyone suddenly showing up in that chamber would have been unsettling. But an angel of the Lord? “Startled” might be putting it mildly. “Gripped with fear” sounds a little more like it. Zechariah was just doing his duty — lighting the incense and saying some prayers. Just like every other priest had done in the days, months and years before. The angel Gabriel showed up at just the right time — in the midst of a blameless servant’s offering of worship.
Lord, when I go into my room in the dark, shadowy hours of morning,
startle me with Your presence.
Grip me with awe.