A Retelling of God in the Silence – Zechariah’s Song
It had been a couple of thousand years since an angel of the Lord had appeared to Abraham, telling him that through his family line, all nations, all people, would be blessed. Kings would rise and fall. Prophets would rise and fall. Priests would rise and fall. The people… they would rise and fall.
And it seemed like God had fallen silent. It had been a few hundred years since a prophet had uttered words from God to the people. The Jewish people were still offering sacrifices to the Lord in the temple and the time had come for Zechariah to enter the temple and offer an incense offering to God. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Zechariah. One he would probably never repeat in his lifetime.
As Zechariah was offering incense, Gabriel, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the alter and immediately Zechariah was gripped with fear. Gabriel was a servant of the most high, standing in God’s own presence, ready to carry out whatever mission that God would send Gabriel on. But Gabriel, knowing Zechariah’s fear says, “Don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayers and Elizabeth will bear you a child. You will name him John.”
In fear and in disbelief, Zechariah tells Gabriel, “How can this possibly be? I’m old. Elizabeth is old. She has been barren her entire life and everyone knows it.” Abraham and Sarah’s story was about to repeat itself. But instead this time, It would be Zechariah and Elizabeth. And instead of bearing a son that would be the forerunner of a great nation, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son would be a forerunner of the Messiah, the one crying out in the wilderness that God was on his way. We can only imagine the joy welling up inside of Zechariah and Elizabeth once they laid sight on their newborn son.
God was about to turn false notions about Zechariah and Elizabeth upside down. They weren’t cursed. They had been chosen by God to bring a child into the world that would announce the Christ. God was about to speak into the silence but it would be more than just words this time. Zechariah’s doubt would be turned upside down. The people’s assumption that Elizabeth’s barrenness was a curse would be proved false. John would bring them both great joy. Even their neighbors would celebrate all throughout the hills.
Was God in the silence? Silence doesn’t mean God is absent. God is a keeper of his word. Doubt doesn’t stop God. God is the giver of life. And God has always had in mind that we would once again walk with him and he did that by coming to us. And in the end, Zechariah declares this in praise. John would “cry out in the wilderness” that the Messiah was about to arrive on scene.
Storyline Commentary on Luke 1:5-13, 14-25, 57-80
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting Zechariah has been called to duty. It’s now his time, a once in a life time opportunity, to enter the temple and offer incense to God. But there was nothing significant that this moment would lead to an encounter with an angel of the Lord.
The Characters Gabriel, an angel of the Lord who stands in the ready in God’s presence, ready to carry out whatever task God gives him. Zechariah, a priest in the line of Abijah. Elizabeth, wife to Zechariah in the line of Aaron. Neighbors and friends, who go from believing Zechariah and Elizabeth are cursed by God to believing they are blessed because Elizabeth becomes pregnant with John.
The Tension Elizabeth is without child and the people think it’s God’s curse on Elizabeth and Zechariah because of some sin. Zechariah becomes fearful at the sight of Gabriel. Zechariah doubt’s Gabriel’s claim that Elizabeth will become pregnant. This is the same tension as Abraham and Sarah, how could it be that God would bless the world through the unexpected? The main tension, history has been waiting for this moment. Was God in the silence? It’s a resounding yes, because the Messiah is about to enter into this world.
The Resolution God turns the people’s notion that Zechariah and Elizabeth are cursed upside down. Gabriel says don’t be afraid. Elizabeth became pregnant with John. God has brought one into the world who would be the resolution to the main tension, one crying out in the Wilderness, signaling that the Messiah was about to enter the world.
The Through Line God brings life and it isn’t dependent on what we or others think of ourselves. It’s been God’s plan all along.
Reflections on God in the Silence
Why has this story endured? We often wonder about God in the silence. This story takes us back through Isaiah and his prophecy of one crying in the wilderness all the way back to Abraham and Sarah when God promised to bless the nations through their offspring. God didn’t disappear between the generations. His story was unfolding through ours.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Well-meaning people still tend to define God in terms of people’s circumstances. In this story, the people believed Elizabeth was barren because of something she had done in life. But God turned all of that upside down by giving them a son who would announce the Messiah. This side of the resurrection, we see that God doesn’t define us by what or what we haven’t done. God defines us through Jesus.
How does this story help us love God? God has had us in mind all along. From the very beginning. And he didn’t act independently of us. He used our own stories to breathe his Story into the world.
How does this story help us love others? We really need to keep in mind that sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people. This shouldn’t define how we see God because it’s how we think God works that influences how we treat others. God has always been making a way for life with people and we should be about that same sort of work.
Reflections based on Luke 1:5-13, 14-25, 57-80; Psalm 113