Isabel was cousin of Mary and descendant of the priest families of Israel and her father was a priest of the temple. Zacarias was also a priest of the temple.
This may have been because he was married to the daughter of a priest instead of coming from a family of priests. He was thought to be a very holy and kind man, although because he came from a small village, some priests considered him a bit like a “village cocoon”. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth would be over 60 years old when this story happened, because people did not think you could have children after age 60. Not having children was a great social problem and, at times, it was seen as an oversight by the religious of a priest. must!
Zacarias was not a very important priest in the temple and this was the first time he had the important job of spraying incense on the altar to burn it. In this place of Jewish service, only Zacarias, as a priest of incense, would have been in this part of the temple. Its function was to pour the incense on the golden altar and then bow in adoration to God and then leave that part of the temple and say the final prayer of service. Zacharias poured the incense on the altar, but before he could bow and leave, an angel appeared next to the altar. In the entire history of the Jewish religion, an angel had never appeared to anyone in that part of the temple. The angel was Gabriel, the same angel who had visited Mary. If you want to know more about the angel Gabriel and his role as the main messenger of God, go to the section on the sister site of Whychristmas.com com whyangels? Com about Gabriel.
The name John (Jehochanan or Jochanan) means “The Lord is kind.” He was to be called that because God had been kind to Elizabeth and Zacharias, giving them a son. Gabriel’s words to Zachariah meant that when John was a man, he told people about Jesus. Zechariah did not really believe the angel and asked him to show him this, so Gabriel made Zechariah speechless, until he believed what the angel had told him.
The other priests, waiting outside that part of the temple, would have wondered what was happening because Zacarias had taken much longer than he should have done to pour the incense. When he left, they knew something had happened because he could not say the final sentence.
Elizabeth became pregnant as the angel had told Zacarias. It remained hidden for the first five months, because people might not have believed that she could get pregnant.
The words Elizabeth spoke to Mary when they met show that Elizabeth knew that Mary had a very important baby growing inside her; and that your baby would also have something to do with Mary’s baby. The words that Mary said in response are known as ‘Magnificat’ and are a ‘thank you’ and a prayer of worship to God. When Mary left Elizabeth and Zechariah and went to her home in Nazareth, Elizabeth would have been pregnant for about nine months and Mary would have been pregnant for about three months. Mary could have gone home then because she did not want to get involved with the publicity of John’s birth.
So it would not be long after Elizabeth gave birth to John. When it came time to name the baby, it was natural for the family to think that it would be called Zechariah in honor of their father, since that was usually what they called male babies. But Elizabeth knew she had to be called John. The family would have doubted this, so they asked Zechariah, still silent, what it should be called. As soon as he wrote to John, as the angel had said, he could speak again.
The prayer that Zacarias said then was the same that he should have said when he left the temple but could not do it. Now Zacarias could see what the words really meant. Christians believe that these words are about Jesus.
There is an excellent article about the dating of Christmas based on the dates of the experience of Zacarias, in the blog of the theologian Ian Paul.