A Season of Silence

It’s one of the best—and funniest—Christmas stories; one which I’m sure God would like to repeat on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It’s also a story I’m sure most spouses would like to see repeated. Here’s what happened.

While Zechariah, the priest, is serving in the Temple before the Alter of Incense, an angel appears to him and tells him that his prayers have been answered. His wife, Elizabeth, will finally bear a child. It seems reasonable that Zechariah would have questions about this announcement and so he says, “How do I know that you’re telling me the truth?”

Really? How many angels have appeared to Zechariah in his lifetime, I wonder? And how many of those angels have lied to him? The angel, Gabriel, has heard enough and says to Zechariah, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” I’m sure God and Gabriel gave each other a knowing look at this point, as if to say, “I was wondering if that guy was ever going to shut up!”

Zechariah had nine months to think about this announcement and no opportunity to protest or make excuses, complain about dinner or boss his subordinates around. God hit the MUTE button on Zechariah.

I think we could all learn a lesson from this. In the presence of the Holy, our best response is silence. You have a lot to say, I realize. I, too, have a lot to say. I have advice for my family, my friends, my church. I even had advice for God most of the time. We all have legitimate questions and I believe God values our questions, but God must also long for our silence. I picture God wanting to press my MUTE button. I get tired of myself. Imagine how tired of me God must get!

In the face of impossible promises, God insists that Zechariah simply shut up! We too, in the face of impossible promises, would do well to be quiet. I have lots of questions about the believability of the Biblical stories, why my life isn’t working out the way I want, why the world does not bend to my will.

Me: “How can I know all this stuff is true?”
God: “Shush!”

Something remarkable happens when we stop talking. We suddenly hear things we could never hear before. My mother always said it was impossible to talk and listen at the same time. God stopped Zechariah’s mouth, but he unstopped his ears. Imagine what old Zechariah was able to hear in those nine months. Imagine what we might be able to hear if we were to silence our voices—our audible voices but also our inner voices—and listen. Advent, it seems to me is a season for silence; for listening in expectation of promises fulfilled.