20 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 appointed time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. -Luke 1:20-23
For days now we've wandered through the barren lands of doubt: Zechariah's doubt, Elizabeths' doubt, the doubt of an entire people, the doubt of the world, and our own cold doubts. It's a chilling place to be, especially being physically reinforced by living in the harsh climate that I do. Winter, snow, frost, long nights and short days — they all combine to create one of the most dangerous parts of the year. We are full of doubt and grief and loss, and yet these moments are pregnant (yes pregnant) with hope.
I had an "AHA!" moment tonight, reading through Okoro's take on Zechariah's silence. I've written to you already about how impossible it is to ask us, as humans, to suddenly believe in a present, active God when prayers have gone unanswered for years. It's ludicrious. And it's exactly what Zechariah does. And yet traditionalist views on his "lack of faith" point to a punishing God. Zeke doesn't belief in the instant he's told about becoming a father, so he gets zapped.
What if… what if there's another perspective?
You're right, Henri. There usually is. 🙂
Had Zechariah been free to share about his divine experiences immediately, would he have found the words? Would the community have believed him? Would the full impact of God's presence been taken in? These questions aren't ones for answering, but for considering.
What if God gave Zechariah nine (plus some) months to revel in the news? What if God gave Zechariah the gift of retreat so that those years of disappointment… grief… pain… doubt… could dissolve, disappear? What if God gave Zechariah such elegant time to be alone with the Holy Spirit as only She could be?
What if God knew that Zechariah needed time to digest this upheaval — personal, communal, national, transcendent upheaval — and gave him more than the news of his son?
What if the muteness was God's gift of time itself?
"Sometimes, when God offers us a word, vision, or dream that seems too good to be true, we require a lot to believe it. It is almost as though we have conditioned ourselves to have little or no expectations of divine generosity extended toward us. We reason that if we do not get our hopes up then we will not have to worry about being disappointed. We try to safeguard ourselves from the possibility of being hurt by learning not to anticipate much. We do this not only with God but also in relationships with one another." (Okoro, p. 48).
I don't believe in God sometimes.
I don't believe God sometimes.
I'm sure you had similar moments, didn't you?
Chewing on this part of Zechariah's journey, and seeing how God has manifested Herself in my own life, it would stand to reason that perhaps I should have been made mute a thousand times over. I should have been zapped repeatedly. Who knows? Maybe I was in ways I've never understood, but I certainly was never struck physically mute.
Maybe God was just as excited as Zechariah and was all ready for these things to happen, but knew in some infinite wisdom that Zechariah needed time to absorb, heal, realize, be re-membered. Maybe God knew long beforehand that it would have been too much for poor Zeke, and not only gifted him with time to reconnect with Yaweh but challenged the community to be patient about these strange events.
I hear of the events in Ferguson, stories of torture committed by leaders of democratic nations against the Arab world, war, famine, ebola… and I think it's safe to say many of us are pretty fed up with evil running the horse ragged. I know I am. Could it be that there are Zechariah's in-the-making? Are there prophets and crazies in the world who already know God's way of peace, but are admonished to be still until it's their time?
Like pregnancy, are they being committed to waiting for a season until God says: "Go ahead"?
I don't think I'll listen to the story of Zechariah being struck mute in quite the same way again, Henri. And I'm glad for it.