The Season of Announcement is a commemoration of those events surrounding and culminating with the incarnation of Jesus. The season opens with the announcement to Zechariah that John, the Forerunner of Jesus, was to be born.
Mention of the archangel Gabriel, whose name means “God is strong,” is found in the Old Testament. The archangel appeared to the prophet Daniel and spoke of the end of time when God will come to judge his people (Daniel 8: 16-26; 8: 21-27). In the New Testament, the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah is an indication that Gabriel is completing his mission and that the final days have begun. Although almost two millennia have intervened since the birth of John the Forerunner, it must always be recalled that we are living in the “end times” – the fulfillment of all that has been promised.
Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, a descendant of Aaron, a member of the priestly caste. This appearance took place while Zechariah was fulfilling one of the priestly functions, the offering of incense at the Temple altar.
The prophecy of a birth of a son was not only good news for Israel, but also good news for the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth. For years they had been living under the curse of having no children. Gabriel now told them that Elizabeth, in her old age, was to give birth to a son. The news given to Zechariah and Elizabeth recalls the promise given to Abraham and Sarah: they too were childless, but were promised descendants.
Although he knew that nothing is impossible for God, Zechariah doubted the message. In order to bring him to belief, Gabriel gave him a sign: Zechariah was to be mute until the birth of his son. This sign given to Zechariah is intended for all of us. John the Forerunner is the link between the Old and New Covenants. With the coming of the Savior, the Old will be silenced and the New Covenant proclaimed. Filled with the spirit, we cry out with Zechariah, “Blessed are you, O God!”
The early Fathers provide us with an interesting epilogue to this account. They taught that Zechariah was martyred because he refused to disclose John’s hiding place to Herod’s soldiers (Matthew 23:35).
(Taken from the Maronite Divine Office referred to as the Prayer of the Faithful, SYNAXARION page 260.)