Last week, we began this Advent contemplation of “Silence” by looking at the painful silence that accompanies a longing for the voice of God. But even when God sent a messenger to Zechariah, to announce the coming of a new prophet John the Baptist, there was a need for a new kind of silence — the silence of the people.
The story of Zechariah’s life-changing encounter with the angel Gabriel is linked above. But in sum, Zechariah and his wife are childless and elderly, but when God reveals that Elizabeth will bear a son who will be a prophet, Zechariah can’t believe it. In response, the angel makes him mute until the day the child will be born.
Of course, when you read it, it’s clear that Zechariah’s muteness is a sort of punishment. But really, I see it as more of a discipline, that is, something imposed upon him for the sake of teaching him an important lesson. Perhaps the lesson was something like, “Oh, you don’t think God can do this? Well, how about you stop using your mouth for a season and learn how to use your other senses; your ears, your eyes. Observe and see all that God can and will do.”
Had he not been silenced, we might conclude that Zechariah might have rationalized his experience away, like Scrooge does when he’s getting creeped out the night before his ghostly encounters: “Perhaps a bit of bad beef…”
But because Zechariah was silenced, he was actually blessed with the opportunity to observe all that God can and will do in God’s own time, and with God’s own power. And thankfully, it is all for the benefit of the world.
- Would it be hard for you to not speak for nine months? Discuss.
- Have you ever had an experience of slowing down and turning off the noise of your life? What was it like?
- Why do you think God seems to insist on encountering people in simple, humble, and easy-to-miss ways, as he does with Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19:12)?