Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth ..."
Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
Just how tall is Gabriel standing right now? Zechariah must have felt very very small. "Do not be afraid, Zechariah." Maybe Gabriel shouldn't have said that; he didn't expect Zechariah to pooh-pooh his announcement.
But the consequences for Zechariah were hardly a punishment. With his mouth closed he had much more opportunity to simply listen - to his wife, to the people for whom he was priest, to his own thoughts, but most of all to the voice of God.
God is famous for this kind of logical consequences. The so-called curses on man, woman and the serpent in Genesis 3 don't describe punishment; they describe consequences. And in this much more individual case, Zechariah spent the next few months becoming much closer to God than he had ever been before.
The kind of stillness Zechariah experienced within himself often comes only in the wake of suffering. There just isn't anything else to say. No comfort, no consolation. No fixing, no bargaining. There's a verse in Ecclesiastes I should think of more often: "God is in heaven, and you are on earth. So let your words be few" (Eccl 5:2).
I talk easily about listening to God, but doing so requires that I shut up. That's such a simple truth. I'm glad to be reminded of it today.
Thank you, Lord, for your patience with my words, my talk. Please forgive my presumption. Let me listen well.