The Good Gift of Silence

Today’s devotional is offered by retired intern, Chris Redmon.

Luke 1:11-13, 18-20: Then there appeared to Zechariah an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. . .” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.

It seems downright cruel.

Here’s Zechariah, wondering how his barren, elderly wife will bear their family a child. You don’t need biology degrees to know that this is impossible. Zechariah’s question to his mysterious guest isn’t rude or insulting; it’s honest. Were I in his shoes, I’d have asked it myself—and in a few verses, Mary will ask it too (1:34).

So it seems cruel, Gabriel silencing Zechariah. “You will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” Stern words, especially when Luke has gone out of his way to tell us what a good man this Zechariah is (1:6). What did he ever do to tick the angel off? Was it his lack of faith? Had priesthood made him arrogant? Had he forgotten the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures of barren women conceiving—Sarah, or Rebekah, or Hannah?

Of course, these questions assume that Zechariah’s silence was a punishment. And maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe it was something else entirely. Maybe it was an opportunity. What if it was a gift?

What if, for this season, Zechariah needed the silence more than anything else? What if he welcomed it as a chance to listen to God afresh, to rethink who God was—even to imitate God, who lives in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings 19:11-13)? What if these moments in Zechariah’s life were like the speechless moments before creation, preparing Zechariah to speak (1:67-80), and to go before the one who would go before the Lord?

And what if, this busy season, Zechariah was inviting you to be silent too? To quiet your spirit, forget what you thought you knew about the world, listen, and hope for something new?

Prayer: Lord, take away our words and teach us yours. Help us to befriend silence and to hear you within it. Amen.