Sometimes you get the news you’ve always wanted and you sing it from the mountain tops for everyone to hear.
But that didn’t happen for Zechariah.
It isn’t what Elizabeth did either.
Working my way towards Christmas, delving into scripture has given me much needed focus in my scatterbrained heart, provided some deep insight in areas of personal blindness, and left me moments to stop and ponder where I’d usually blaze right through…
That’s what the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth has done for me… left me to stop and ponder.
The gospel of Luke begins the telling the good news of Jesus a little before Jesus’ birth, with the coming of news to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. This, the birth of John, would prepare the way for the Lord… an advent of sorts…
We meet the pair with an introduction I could only dream to be said of me, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”
Our Advent Devotion brought beautiful insight to this couple:
Zechariah’s name means “God remembers.” But some days Zechariah felt like God had forgotten him. Everybody else had the gift of a child- but not Zechariah. Zechariah had no little boy of his own to play with, to love on, to dream with. Zechariah did have a wife. Her name was Elizabeth- it meant “God’s promise.” Elizabeth prayed with Zechariah that God would remember, that He would remember His promise of a child. What more could anyone want than the miraculous gift of a child? Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed to believe that God remembered, that God kept HIs promises. This is always the best place for miracles to happen: God meets us right in the place where it’s hard to believe. When our believing sort of runs our, God’s loving always runs on.
And that’s where we find them Zechariah and Elizabeth… with prayers unfulfilled and yet, Godly and righteous. And Luke chapter 1 tells of how God meets them in this moment.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
God heard their prayers.
God answered their prayers.
There was no fanfare, no songs, no shouting it from the mountain top.
There was silence and solitude.
In many ways they’d already been in silence and solitude. Silence when, for years, God did not answer their prayers, the desire of their hearts for a child. Solitude, for days gave way to years, as the couple continued life child-less…
The moment God answered their prayer Zechariah was silent, his own doubt took away his voice. Elizabeth entered solitude, even when her very joy could have brought accolades from her community.
The silence didn’t last only a moment. The solitude not mere days.
For more than 9 months Zechariah was mute.
For 5 months Elizabeth stayed hidden.
Out of the solitude… out of the silence… God’s glory broke through in Jesus.
Mary, who had her own divine encounter as God sent an angel with a miraculous message for her, comes to visit Elizabeth. “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…”
Out of her solitude, Elizabeth encounters God, filled with the Holy Spirit she “exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Her solitude ended. Her joy overflowing.
And Zechariah? His silence continued months longer, throughout Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy. The day came, his son was born. The Lord’s promise was fulfilled. Eight days later the community gathered and they wanted to name him after his father Zechariah. Elizabeth objected but they didn’t listen.
62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
Out of his silence Zechariah’s voice returned and what he spoke, as he blessed God, as he then prophesied of John preparing the way for the Messiah and of salvation come… those words were talked about all through the country.
What great joy and work of God came from the silence of Zechariah and solitude of Elizabeth!
We can be all to tempted to fill our lives with volume, our hearts with noise. It is all too easy to surround ourselves with people, add another activity to our days. Where is there a need for silence and solitude right now in your life? What areas of silence have left you feeling that God is not at work? What times of solitude have left you feeling abandoned by God?
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s advent (the coming of the one who would prepare the way for the Lord) was met with silence and solitude. How often do I fill Advent, the preparation for the coming, with everything but silence and solitude? No wonder my heart is in a frenzy, my mind can’t focus, my attention span limited and my patience even more so!
Maybe you are struggling this Advent season with days, months, years of silence or solitude. How can it be possible to find joy, to prepare for the coming of Christ when God hasn’t answered or when you are left lonely? Or perhaps, the flurry activity December brings has you struggling to choose silence and solitude and you feel you’re missing the powerful moments in the meantime.
From the silence and solitude God’s glory breaks through, in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story… and in yours. They waited a life-time together in silence and solitude as God did not grant their desire for a child as those around them built a family. As they encountered God’s miraculous blessing of a child they also found themselves in silence and solitude for months more.
From the silence and solitude, Zechariah and Elizabeth encountered Christ, found the hope of salvation.
What will God do in your life from the silence and solitude?
How can you intentionally choose silence and solitude as you prepare your heart in the days left before Christmas?
Whether it is a moment to walk in the woods, a time alone in prayer/worship, a chance to read a book you’ve not been able to get too… whatever the specifics, take the chance to allow God to minister to your heart and work powerfully in your spirit through silence and solitude as Christmas approaches!
Zechariah meaning “God remembers” and Elizabeth meaning “God’s promise,” through the silence and solitude, gave birth to John meaning “God is gracious.” Because God remembers, because of God’s promises and in His great love for us God gave the most gracious gift of Christ. May we be faithful and obedient as we endure times of silence and solitude. May we be wise to choose silence/solitude. May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to feel and minds to comprehend God’s gracious work from the silence and solitude of life.