Keeping Watch with Zechariah

Wednesday in first week of Advent 2012

by Marjorie George

God was speaking again.  Not for 400 years had the voice of the prophets been heard in Israel. Malachi, writing in about 500-450 B.C., had spoken of the coming messenger of God. Then silence. And now God was choosing once again to speak to his people through his people.

Burning candlesIt happened this way, Luke tells us (see Luke chapter 1). A certain couple – Elizabeth and Zechariah – were considered righteous before the Lord. But they were already elderly, well past child-bearing years, and had no children. Now, Zechariah was a priest of the temple, one of about 18,000 who each served in the temple twice year. It was Zechariah’s turn, and on this particular day he was chosen by lot to go into the sanctuary and offer incense. In that holiest of holy settings, as the people were assembled outside in prayer, an angel appeared to Zechariah, announcing that soon Elizabeth would become pregnant and bear a son. Not just any son – a child who would bring joy and gladness, and at whose birth many would rejoice. “He will be great in the sight of the Lord,” said the angel. They were to name him John.  

Zechariah is astounded, and says so. “How will this be,” he asks. “For my wife and I are very old.”  Well, says the angel, I am Gabriel, the messenger of the Lord. “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to bring you good news.” At that, Zechariah is given some “processing time” and is struck mute, unable to speak for the duration of the pregnancy.  

More silence.

There are those who say that the language of God IS silence. What things take place in the silence, in the apparently empty spaces of our lives, we do not know. We cannot begin to comprehend. In scripture we see that the 400-year silence of the prophets and the nine-month silence of Zechariah precede the most incredible, unheard-of, absolutely glorious revelation of God that has ever occurred and ever will.

We would do well to seek silence or at least learn from it when it is our lot to be placed there.

hourglassIn the silence we remember who we are and where we came from.  Everything about the story of Zechariah connects it to Israel’s history as told in the Old Testament. John is to be a messenger; he will “prepare the way of the Lord” and “make his paths straight” as Isaiah had foretold (Lk 3:4).

Like Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and the whole procession of prophets who spoke for God in ancient times, John will call the people to repentance. “You are a brood of vipers,” he says to them. Repent; be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. (Lk 3:3).

Like Elijah, John will redirect those who respond to his message toward a walk with God. “One comes after me who is more powerful than I,” he tells the people when he begins his ministry 30 years after his birth. “I am not worthy to untie his sandals” (Lk 3:16).  

God is again at work bringing his promises to pass, in that day and in our day.  Gabriel still speaks to us and hastens to allay our fears – “do not be afraid.”  Do not give up. Tell the old, old stories to your children and your children’s children. Trust in the revelation, though it may appear to be long in coming. Wait, watch for the coming of Emmanuel – God with us – once again. Trust the silence to reveal God in his fullest sense, believing again that the promises given will come to pass. Listen to the messengers whom God still sends; look at the signs that are all around. You also will gain your voice and will proclaim with Zechariah, “Blessed be the Lord.”

Read Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:67-79.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at  

2 thoughts on “Keeping Watch with Zechariah”

  1. Silence as the language of God. That is so different than our world today where we pipe in sound to avoid the awkward silences. Even restaurants are full of TVs. People sit and check Iphones at the table (me included).
    Zechariah being silent, apparently not by choice, must have been a way for the mystery to stay mystery and not be captured in words which would have lessened the mystery. Imagine trying to describe meeting the angel, Gabriel?

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