Elizabeth and Zechariah mark the end of an old covenant, just as they mark the beginning of Luke's gospel. Both are righteous, walking blamelessly in all the statutes and commands of the Lord. Elizabeth is a daughter of Aaron, Zechariah a Levite from the Abijah clan and a priest serving his rotation in the temple. They are pious Jews and share with many pious Jews before them the same grief: They are barren. They were barren all their years together and now they are old, too. Age has put an end to any lingering hope.

How familiar their story is. It was the same with Sarah and Abraham, with Rachel and Jacob, with Manoah and his wife, with Hannah and Elkanah, with the Shunammite woman and her husband. Each couple in their way pleaded with the Lord. A few tried to cheat the raw deal of childlessness. Sarah cheated with a servant girl; the result was Ishmael, cruelty, and unabated enmity millennia later. Rachel cheated, too, with the servant girl Bilhah, but it only exacerbated her grief and Leah's competitiveness.

The ones after them, maybe, learned the lesson and stopped cheating. Their reaction to the angel or the prophet bringing news of a child at last was simple disbelief. Manoah insisted on a repeat miracle, unwilling to accept his wife's testimony about Samson's eventual birth. The Shunammite woman begged Elisha not to mock her with his promise. Hannah just prayed, prayed so hard that Eli thought she was drunk and Elkanah thought she didn't love him anymore.

Cheat or no cheat, their prayers were answered. Their dirty tricks and their disbelief were forgiven. A boy was born—always a boy.

With Elizabeth and Zechariah, this string of miracles ends. It is complete.

Zechariah was no better than his predecessors when faced ...

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