Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, is always a reflective time for me. I didn’t realize until recently that it is beginning of the liturgical calendar. As a Baptist, we don’t pay too much attention to the the Liturgical calendar except for Christmas and Easter. Generally, in our traditions, each individual church and pastor sets their own preaching calendar . But for the high holidays, you can almost guarantee that you’re going to hear a sermon of either the manger or Golgotha’s hill (or probably both!)
So I was fully prepared for this week’s Sunday school lesson to be about the angel meeting Zechariah in the temple. I love the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. It’s one of my favorite of the Christmas stories, probably because I have entered my Elizabethan age. I’m a married lady with a few years on me. My husband is also a minister. I am more likely to identify with Elizabeth, the big cousin, than I am with the blessed and highly-favored virgin. (I got all three of my babies the regular way.)
Anyway, my teacher asked about Zechariah’s punishment of being silent, and I have been sitting with that question for 24 hours straight. My classmates correctly ascertained that since Zechariah was responsible for speaking on behalf of God, that the angel didn’t want him speaking out of doubt. They also talked about the difference between God’s responses to the men and women asking questions. I didn’t have a problem with any of that.
My problem lies with the question itself. What if Zechariah’s sentence to silence wasn’t so much a punishment, as it was preparation? Sometimes, God has given me things that I released either at the wrong time or to the wrong people. It did not end well. Perhaps, the angel sensed some immaturity in Zechariah’s questions. The angel was bringing good news and just maybe, Zechariah was not ready to hold such a precious gift yet. Also, forced silence makes you appreciate the glory of God in a completely different light. We can hear so much better when our mouths are closed.
Can you imagine the things Zechariah heard while he was forced to be quiet? Imagine hearing the prayers of petitioners that you previously on half-listened to before. Or think about the late night conversations he could have heard between Elizabeth and Mary, as they discussed the joys and woes of pregnancy, and the dreams they had for their unborn sons. Imagine how not being able to speak for a little while, makes you appreciate the gift that is your own voice. After Zechariah’s time of silence was up, his first words were offering up praises to the LORD.
I think the song that Zechariah lifts up at the end of Luke 1 was being written on his heart in during his quiet time. I think that he learned to appreciate the power of his voice, and I think going forward, Zechariah was probably a lot more careful with the weight of his words.
But more than anything, I think Zechariah’s story teaches me that what I might see as punitive is really preparatory for my next season. This reframing has been critical over these last two months as I battled my way through some tough situations. I’ve been in my own season of relative silence, but when the time is right, like Zechariah, I think I’ll have plenty to say.
Advent: to look forward to the coming of something new. As we get ready to close out 2022, I pray that you find something to look forward to.
Until next time.