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For the sake of the long story, we did not read all of chapter one. Part of it tells the story of Mary and Elizabeth. But we also simplified the story of Zechariah. I will summarize it now.
Gabriel: your son John will be a joy and a delight and he will be great and God’s eye. He’s going to be a good boy and he won’t go out drinking. But I’ll be filled with the power of the prophets, he’ll Point people to the Future and to Justice, and he will prepare the way for the Lord.
Zechariah being a man of the Priestly lineage and knowing his stories remembers a story of another older man and his wife who didn’t have children and were given the promise of a child and so he responded the same way Abraham did saying: how can I be sure of this because my wife and I are very old.
And here’s how I think Gabriel’s response sounded: because I’m Gabriel and I hang out with God and God sent me to tell you. And now, because you didn’t believe me IMMEDIATELY you’re going to be silent and unable to speak until the day when all of this comes to pass.
Silence was given to Zechariah as punishment and was worded vaguely enough that he could have been silent until the day he died because he asked a follow-up question for something that seemed unbelievable. A few verses later Mary gets a message about a miraculous baby from the same angel and she says how will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man sure that’s what she said and the angel doesn’t punish her. So either Zachariah met Gabriel on a bad day or there is something else that maybe we could get from this story.
Zechariah’s role as part of an order of priests was to go to the temple once every six months with his brethren. Twice a day someone would be picked to light the incense in the Holy of Holies and then come out and offer a blessing to the priests. There were so many priests, this was Zechariah’s first time having this honor. I imagine both he and the other priests were shocked when Zechariah couldn’t offer the blessing. They knew something special and holy must have happened, but I wonder if one of them walked Zechariah home so that Elizabeth wouldn’t assume he was playing games.
The text doesn’t come right out and say it but when the townspeople want to know what Zechariah wants to name the child because Elizabeth’s name choice didn’t make sense, it says they motioned or gestured to get Zechariah’s attention, it seems you would only do that if he couldn’t hear either.
Elizabeth wasn’t pregnant when Zechariah got this word from the angel Gabriel. Zechariah’s whole world was about to change and he spent the 10 months leading up to it in silence, maybe both his silence and silence to the world around him.
I wonder if it started in fear, discomfort, and anger. I wonder if his silent prayers that he raised to God were full of things he would never say aloud. Maybe there was a time of hurt and confusion; like Zachariah had been betrayed by the God he had spent his life devoted to and yet there was this promise of a baby and not just any random baby but one who is going to be a big deal who is going to be important to the work of God in this world and important for his people. I wonder if Zechariah started out feeling frantic that there was this energy in him for all of the things that he wanted to do and say and hear and participate in and I wonder if over the months that changed.
Journalist AJ Jacobs is culturally Jewish but was not raised with the religious traditions. And many years ago he wrote a book about how he spent a year following all of the biblical laws and he would add them in gradually and then reflect on that experience. It was clear not all of them were taking particularly seriously like when he had pebbles in his pocket to throw at adulterers. But one day in his New York apartment, when everyone was gone the door handle to the bathroom that had been jiggling and loose fell off well he was on inside. These were the days before everyone had a cell phone that they took to the bathroom with them that would have sent a saving message or at least entertained him. Jacob’s just had himself and the contents of the bathroom. He writes that he read every single thing on every single bottle and box that had words on it. When he finished that he just had to sit there… in the quiet… with nothing to do. He’d go on to write that was the moment he realized Sabbath wasn’t just about not working but about putting things down and being open to the world to the connection with the divine to understanding and knowing yourself to thinking thoughts about the world that Sabbath was about the peace that you find in the nothing. Sabbath was a gift.
I wonder if Zechariah found that the silence was a gift. I wonder if Zechariah was able to see the world differently when he was able to step back when he could not have an active participatory role as he was accustomed to. I wonder what he noticed when all of the noise of the world was no longer getting between him and the actions of others and the divine. I wonder what he observed when that was all he could do.
It seems that the words of the angel were ringing in his ears for 10 months as he watched the world. And they rang in his ears as he watched and observed and noted the world around him. In the silence, there was truth, healing, learning, and growing. He was given a revelation in the silence, a quiet unveiling. The world opened up and in the silence, Zechariah could hear the angel more fully of how John would be part of God’s unfolding narrative of presence and humanity, of Christ and embodiment, of salvation and hope.
Zechariah embraces all that is to come, all that Gabriel said, by affirming the baby’s name as John. The world of sound returns, and he fills it with praise.
Today’s lesson from Zechariah is to find some silence amid the noisiness of the season. It’s almost a cliche line. But it is a noisy season… It’s a noisy life. I would never get trapped in the bathroom without my tiny pocket computer that plays movies, and I guess would let me call for help. I have these cute little bone-conducting headphones, so I can be listening to something constantly, which I kind of do all the time, and still hear what’s going on in the world around me so no one can sneak up on me, as I’m sure they did to Zechariah and his friends thought it was hilarious.
And it isn’t just noisy, it is busy. I decided to try this calendar where you put all of your tasks in and then the calendar program fits it into your week. The number of times this calendar program has told me that it has filled my day and there are still 15 tasks that cannot fit into the day, every day, and one of those things is the one self-care thing I had, it’s a little overwhelming.
And that is just for me and Kelly, and mostly just me. When there are kids with practices and grandkids with games and everyone in the house drinks at different kind of milk, and no one goes to the same school, how do you rest? How do you find your place and the narrative of God and the story of this world if you cannot pause in the silence for the revelation? If you are so busy going how do you step back and see?
Because each of us are part of the story of God, part of The Narrative of Christ comes to earth, a woven mess of a beautiful tapestry. Each one of us is called. It might be your work or your life’s work of how you give how you love how you be in Ministry to the world loving the world.
So yes, I wonder if we can find some time of quiet this season, to teach ourselves, our young people, our neighbors overwhelmed with noise to feel the discomfort of the silence until we find peace in the silence. Advent is our waiting on Christ to return, but maybe Christ is waiting on us in the quiet to reveal where God has always been, our place in God’s world, the importance of rest. Until we receive the revelation, until we find our place in the story of the God who comes to earth to live with us, and calls us to live in this earth to love it.
Canticle of Zechariah Hymnal #733 Luke 1:68-79
Sung Response You will have joy and gladness
Blessed be the Sovereign God of Israel,
Who has looked favorable on the people and redeemed them.
God has raided up a mighty savior for us
in the house of God’s servant David;
as God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old,
what we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
You will have joy and gladness
Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered God’s holy covenant,
the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham.
to grant us that we,
being rescued from the hands of our enemies
might serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness
before God all our days.
You will have joy and gladness
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before God
to prepare God’s ways;
to give knowledge of salvation to the people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in night
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
You will have joy and gladness