First Mennonite Church
December 7, 2014
A Time To Be Silent
Text: Luke 1: 5-25
There are various aspects about the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth that are exemplary and worthy to imitate. Imagine a couple who had grown old together and who had worshipped in their local synagogue. Both of them came from a priestly lineage; therefore, both knew the family rituals of going to Jerusalem on special occasions. Zechariah and Elizabeth were devout practitioners of their religion. It is said that couples who share a common faith experience and commitment are blessed to find strength and support in each other even in the most difficult circumstances of life. Let me say here in parenthesis that I admire Christian women who regardless of the fact that they do not have the spiritual support of their husbands, find strength in the Lord to continue in their faith journey. To such women Paul reminds them that their husband and children are sanctified because of their faith (1Corinthians 7:14).
In the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we can imagine how many times he had to comfort Elizabeth because of her being childless. Or imagine how many times Elizabeth had to help Zechariah in doing home improvement jobs because Zechariah needed a helping hand but did not have a child to help him. Imagine a couple who have prayed fervently all their lives to be granted the miracle and joy of parenthood only to see themselves grow old and begin to lose hope of that ever happening to them. For those of us who are biological parents, we can so easily take for granted the gift of procreation we have been blessed with. Once I was talking to a mom who said she did not want to have children. She still sort of regrets having the one she has.
Zechariah and Elizabeth remind us of Hannah, the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament. Hannah poured out her heart in prayer asking God to give her a child. But Zechariah and Elizabeth remind us of Sara and Abram, who were past the age of having children when God gave them Isaac. In the case of Zechariah, it seems that he had prayed but was not prepared for God to answer his prayer. It could be that what used to be a heartfelt petition to God for a son eventually became routine script, a cliché, in his daily prayer. After praying for a long time for the same request, it seems Zechariah got used to going through the motions of his prayers without realizing he had lost hope that God would give an answer.
What has been your long-time prayer request to God? Do you still pray for it believing God is going to answer your prayer? Or are you losing hope it will ever be answered and it is becoming like a petrified spiritual artefact in your prayer life? Let us learn from Zechariah’s experience that timing is important in God’s sight. Do not lose hope. Bring your petition before God as if it were the first time you are praying for it. Zechariah was and still is a reminder that “God delays but does not forget.”
As Zechariah was by the altar an angel of the Lord appeared to him. And to him, like many others in the past, the first words the angel spoke were those of reassurance. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear a child and you are to give him the name John,” the angel said. John means “Yahweh has shown favor” or “Yahweh is gracious.” The angel went on to describe the joy and delight the child would bring to both his parents and to “many [who] will rejoice at the news of his birth.” To Zechariah’s amazement, the predictions of the birth of his son signaled something much more special than just the miracle of an older couple becoming parents for the first time. The birth of John signaled the resumption of the prophetic tradition long since ended with Malachi. As the angel described the future identity and work of the baby to be born, it only made clear that John would not be a common man. John would revive and renew the ancient but revered tradition of the prophets and even a more special event. The birth of John signaled the fulfillment of the long-awaited coming of the Messiah. “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” the angel said.
In this regard the birth of John became a living parable. Israel’s hope for God’s visitation was fading like that of Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s of having a son. The dialogue that followed between the angel and Zechariah seems funny. When the angel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear him a son, Zechariah did not hesitate to bring forth what he viewed as the main obstacle for that to happen. Zechariah said, “I am an old man,” and the angel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stands before the throne of God.” And this is very important for us to take notice of. It does not matter who we are or what we are, if God promises something or commands us to do something, there is but one option. Believe and act on the promise or command or doubt and disobey the voice of the Lord. If God says seek my face, we should seek his face. If God says love your neighbor, we should love our neighbor. If God commands us to support one another, that is what we should do.
I would like for us to take a look at what happened to Zechariah and to learn the spiritual discipline of practicing moments of silence. This spiritual discipline is particularly important when we realize the kind of social environment and culture we live in. People do not refrain to claiming the right to “speak out their mind.” People are ready to say whatever they want to say and while some would later regret what they have said, others simply do not care. On the other hand, everyone, including us, can fall in the trap of talking about certain topics repeatedly.
At a gathering I attended, I saw a gentleman who was standing away from the crowd and so I went over to talk with him. After introducing ourselves to each other, he was not hesitant to ask me if I had met the one he described as the “one who cannot stop talking about his favorite and only topic of conversation.” After realizing who he was referring to, I had to admit to him that indeed I had already talked with the one he was referring to. This person regardless of whether his interlocutor would be a man or woman, he would go into detail about hunting expeditions. He would tell of his tried and proven survival skills, his outright or nearly-missed successes or failures of his hunting adventures.
The fact is, we all have our favorite topics of conversation. Some of the stories we so very often repeat are the ones we enjoy reliving. Some others we tell over and over again not because they are interesting but simply because we may have forgotten we have already told them. But there are certain topics people engage simply because as Jesus would say, “Out of the abundance of the heart so speaks the mouth” (Matthew 12:34).
Zechariah I am sure suffered severely for nine months during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. His heart was bursting with joy, yet his mouth had no voice to express it verbally. It all started the day he was encountered by the angel beside the altar. As the worshippers waited for all the priests to come out of the sanctuary, Zechariah delayed. And when he finally came out, he could not join the other priests in blessing the people. Zechariah was making motions with his hands and maybe trying hard to say something but only had muffled noises come out his mouth. In Luke one, verse 68 is where Zechariah spoke for the first time after nine months of silence. And the first words that came from his mouth are: “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel ….”
My dear brothers and sisters, as we observe this Advent season, let us be mindful of what comes out of our mouth. Let us take notice of what topic of conversation we usually engage. Let us be mindful that maybe those who are around us might be tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. Let us remember the words of Paul who said, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt …” (Colossians 4:6).
Here are a few points to ponder on this subject of a moment of silence:
- What is the topic of conversation you most often talk about?
- Why do you feel you should say what you say?
- What is in your heart that shows through your conversation with others?
- Do you feel that by talking of such topics you defend your position on something?
- Pray with the Psalmist: “Set guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
This Advent Season, commit yourself to refrain from whatever topic of conversation is not necessary for your relationship with those around you. Instead take time to explore the Word of God. It could be that Zechariah did that while he could not speak. The blessing he gave when John was born reveals his knowledge of the word of God. It could be that because of what you so often talk about you have made your friends, spouse, or children tired of hearing the same old conversation. Take time to be silent as an act of reverence and love towards the Lord. It is good to remember what Salomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: There is time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven…there a time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 7b). And whenever you talk, let it match with your desire to listen to others.
May Christ dwell in our heart so that he may be revealed when we open our mouth, for out of the abundance of heart, so speaks the mouth. Amen!