Thursday December 19, 2019 written by Mary Iwamoto
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.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
The passage preceding Luke 1:19-23, tells the story of an angel’s visit to Zechariah, a priest, whose turn it is to go into the temple and burn incense. Once in the temple, Zechariah sees the angel, and is afraid. The angel reassures Zechariah, telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son, and “you shall call him John”. The angel goes on to describe the joy, gladness and rejoicing at John’s birth, the role John will play in turning the people of Israel to God, and compares John to the prophet Elijah as one who will prepare the people for the Lord. Not surprisingly, Zechariah’s response is one of disbelief; he asks how he will know this, for he is old, as is Elizabeth. In verses 19-23, the angel identifies itself as Gabriel, and says “I was sent to you to speak to bring you this good news. …you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words”. In subsequent paragraphs in Luke, Gabriel visits Mary to tell her that she will bear a child. Mary is also afraid and comforted by Gabriel, but also expresses doubt, saying she does not have a husband. Gabriel reassures Mary, who then accepts her role with the powerful words “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
I do not understand why Gabriel renders Zechariah mute, but comforts Mary. Perhaps it is because Mary is a young, single woman who is understandably bewildered, but then does accept her role. Perhaps because Zechariah is older and likely more set in his ways, he needs time to think about this in silence. Perhaps Elizabeth also benefits from Zechariah’s silence as she tries to understand the meaning of her late-life pregnancy. Clearly, they both have time to comprehend and embrace the significance of this event. When the child is born, there is much rejoicing; friends, family and neighbors all want to name the boy Zechariah after his father. Elizabeth says “Not so, he shall be called John”, and when asked and offered a tablet, Zechariah writes “His name is John.” At this point, Zechariah’s tongue is loosened, and while you know he must have had a great deal to say, the rest of Luke’s first chapter records Zechariah blessing God.
For me, this powerful story emphasizes my need to listen more and speak less if I am to comprehend and embrace the significance of Advent: God broke lots of ‘rules’ of biology to enter our world and show us firsthand how to love God with all our being, and our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
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