He just asked a question.
Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were old and had struggled with infertility for many years. Despite all of their heartache, they remained faithful their God who seemed non-responsive and so far away.
I imagine Elizabeth’s cyclical shattering of dreams had long since crowded out any ideas that things could be different.
Cynicism is safe. Pessimism is protection.
Perhaps Zechariah kept busy serving in his church where he was respected and kind of a big deal; where it was too noisy to hear Elizabeth’s biological clock. Where it was too crowded to notice the emptiness of their home and hearts.
Busy is better. Noise is numbing.
It was there that he met Gabriel. Zechariah thought he was alone in his temple service that day when the appearance of an angel about scared the bells right off his robe. There, while the people waited outside for their regular blessing, Gabriel gave astounding news:
He and Elizabeth would have a son. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from the womb. He’d be a leader set apart to prepare God’s people for the Messiah. They were to give him a name outside of family tradition: John.
It was too much to take in. It was absurd and unreasonable. I imagine the words echoed around the empty temple and mocked Zechariah’s hurting heart. He was confused and unsure; afraid to set Elizabeth up for more heartache. Afraid to believe.
So Zechariah asked an understandable question:
And anyone who has a personal understanding of grief and despair knows what that question really meant:
“How can we possibly hope… again?
It’s what we all really want to know. How – in this world of one broken heart after another- can there be anything new? Anything worth dreaming?
Without warning, Gabriel rebuked him for questioning and took away his ability to talk.
Zechariah entered the temple as a confident priest and departed a dependent mute. Instead of pronouncing the expected blessing upon the waiting crowd, he stood before them silent and gesturing.
Sheesh… it was only a question; just five small words. The punishment seems disproportionate. But I wonder if it matched years of countless, unspoken questions that had placed a wedge of distrust between he and God.
Perhaps it was a big move needed to heal a big hurt.
Either way, it was grace.
Quiet so they could hear God’s whispers of hope.
Time to realize that God’s plan to bring the Messiah was unfolding right before them.
A season to be renewed; to become the kind of parents who could learn from their son.
Grace in the silence. Hope in the gestures.
I like to think that by the time his son, John, was born, Zechariah learned that God’s Word needs no other voice. I hope he also discovered that God’s love is personal and unconditional. I’m pretty sure he realized that God’s actions are never merely punitive in nature; that the goal is always new life.
And after God renewed his voice, Zechariah’s questioning and silence ended with these words:
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness…” Luke 1: 76-79a
I imagine Elizabeth became a mother with hope. Hope that things can change; that God knows no boundaries and delights in bringing the dead to life. I like to think she became the kind of mom and wife who served her family with resurrection strength.
What about the people outside the temple? The ones waiting for their regular blessing? Maybe they discovered that what comes from the hands of a good, but wild God is often very different from what’s expected.
Quiet grace, a resurrected womb, and new blessings …
It was a perfect unit of study on how to make room for a radical kind of hope.
What area of your life is noisy with questions, assumptions, and limitations?
What seems locked-in and unchangeable; a lost cause? What’s keeping you from hoping? Feeling? Dreaming?
The God of Christmas delights in bringing a wild message to the darkest, emptiest temples. During this Advent, God just might be using your hurting places to quiet you… so you can hear.
Later, at newborn baby John’s circumcision ceremony, Elizabeth silenced tradition by speaking for herself and her husband:
Things can be different. Expect the unexpected. Welcome hope!
I imagine Jesus, our High Priest, looking down on the scene, ready to usher in the impossible, nodding his head in agreement…
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Isaiah 40: 3