The people of the Promise had been waiting for The Promised One for 1,400 years. Moses had prophesied an anointed One who would come to lead Israel. But before the birth of Christ, the people had not heard a word from God’s prophets for over 400 years, but change was coming.
There were 24 sections of priests in Jesus’ day. Only during the Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles did all divisions come to Jerusalem at the same time.
Zechariah’s division would have come to serve in the Temple for one week, twice a year. To be selected as the burner of incense was the highest honor a regular priest could have. Because of the large number of priests, only a few were able to do it once in a lifetime. The incense was offered in the morning and the evening and the smoke represented the prayers of the people rising up to God. Zechariah would enter the Temple and be alone to pray and offer the incense. BUT… The angel Gabriel appears between the incense altar and the golden lamp stand. The last OT appearance of an angel was in 520 BC. Zechariah’s prayer might have been for a son, but at his age he might given up that hope. His prayer probably was for the consolation and redemption of Israel. If that is the case, God answers both his old prayers and his prayer for Israel in a way unimaginable for the elderly couple. The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb and he would be the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1; 4:5,6. Over 400 years had passed since the people had a word from God through the prophet Malachi. You can imagine how shocked Zechariah was when Gabriel shows up.
It seems to me when our prayers cease being about us; what ‘we want’, and start praying for others, God will hear and move. In the OT book of Job we see the healing and the restoration of Job after he prayed for his friends! Let us pray for our community. Lord heal our land.