When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
"Then fear came upon all their neighbors"
What a strange time to be struck with fear! The Gospel doesn't tell us that that Elizabeth and Zechariah's neighbors became afraid when Zechariah went mute, nor does it tell us that they were scared when Elizabeth became pregnant well past her time. Instead, they became afraid when Zechariah's mouth was opened. They are afraid because Zechariah makes it clear that John is to be a prophet, and that the Lord will follow shortly after (Luke 1:76).
You don't need a prophet to say "keep up the good work." The role of the prophet was to point out where the people were failing. Often they foretold destruction and warned of the terrible things to come if the people didn't right their wrongs. In their minds, if God was sending John to be a prophet with the Lord following shortly behind, they must have gotten horribly off track.
Luckily, we do not need to be afraid. We know the story and its glorious conclusion. We know that John did not come to preach death, but life. We know that Christ did not come to condemn, but to redeem. What a tremendous gift! Because of the life of Christ we can live our lives without fear of our deaths but with the hope of eternal life.
Copyright Michael Habeeb, 2014