“The Gift of Silence”

Below is this morning’s devotion from The Advent Project. Written by Dr. Maria Su Wang, Associate Professor of English at Biola University, it focuses on the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah. After reading it, I really wanted to share it. Here it is:

“The response of Gabriel to Zechariah has always puzzled me—why strike Zechariah mute for his unbelief? Why would an imposed silence be an appropriate response to Zechariah’s understandably startled and hesitant reaction? At first glance, it feels almost punitive. After all, can we blame the priest for being “troubled” and fearful after unexpectedly encountering a divine being? Furthermore, when Zechariah questions, “How can I be sure of this?” in verse 18, this seems to be such a human response—who wouldn’t be reluctant to embrace the promise of an heir after years of praying and receiving no answer?”

“As I reflect on this passage more, however, I wonder if Zechariah being struck mute (and deaf) is less of a rebuke and more of a gift. Verse 6 characterizes both Zechariah and Elizabeth as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” We also know that they longed fervently for children. Yet Zechariah’s immediate reaction to Gabriel’s prophecy suggests that he may have lost hope and allowed this long-cherished dream to wither. I wonder if Zechariah illustrates for us how it is possible to be walking faithfully with the Lord and yet still have pockets of our inner lives remain impervious to belief and faith. We may believe in God’s working in many areas of our life but there is still that one thing where we live as functional atheists.”

“After all, it is no small feat to persevere in asking and waiting on God. Zechariah might have noted when Elizabeth’s age was nearing the point where it would truly be physically impossible for her to bear children. Maybe his prayers faded then. Perhaps to all others he was serving diligently in his priestly duties but deep within him remained this secret pain, a place where the light of God could not penetrate. Thus when Gabriel finally addresses this wound directly, Zechariah’s response is initially that of trouble and fear, which typifies what it means to allow God into the place of intense disappointment, grief, and pain.”

“By striking him mute, God, through Gabriel, actually offers Zechariah the gift of deep healing. In removing the noise of the external world and his ability to speak, God grants Zechariah silence and stillness to face his pain and disappointment with God. God gives Zechariah nine months to process the past and future in light of this culminating promise. Most importantly, it enables Zechariah to recalibrate his understanding of who God is. The pronouncement of a son bestowed to Zechariah is more than simply a long-cherished desire or prayer fulfilled; it is also a picture of God seeing Zechariah in his place of pain and initiating the process of healing.”

“Are there such places in your heart that you have also buried and allowed to wither? Which disappointments, hurts, or painful experiences do you need to acknowledge and allow the empathic presence of God to heal?”

“Jesus, help us to make space for silence and stillness so that you can speak into the deepest recesses of our heart that need your healing touch. Allow us to truly experience you as Immanuel, “God with us,” even in our pain and disappointments. Amen.

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