Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you...Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens. Luke 1:8-14a
Power of God, hold us?
The reported response to angelic appearances is typically that of fear; at their presence and bearing and sometimes of their message too. The looming figure at the smoky altar of incense in such a holy place emphasises a powerful existence. In such a context does Zechariah feel held? Well yes, I guess 'you have been heard' suggests he may... yet! What the exact mix here is is difficult to tell, awe at the encounter for sure, as Spencer's painting suggests. But being held by God's power, that's worth a wee ponder.
in the changing phases of man's life...
I must know that still
I am in the hands of the unknown God,
he is breaking me down to his oblivion
to send me forth on a new morning, a new man.
Shadows, D H Lawrence