My friend, Debi Alexander, included this in her Christmas letter. I found it so thought-provoking that I asked her permission to repost it here. Thank you, Debi.
What would happen if I couldn’t talk for nine months? How much could God say to me if I weren’t so busy organizing? What would that look like in my life? I look at Zechariah. Where he was. Where he ended up after his stint of silence. They seem to be two very different places.
He must have known the prophecies; he was a priest after all. But as I read his song, it seems he's undergone a change. When he meets Gabriel, he's full of questions. But after nine mute months, he's full of praise. On board with God. Tracking with His plan a whole lot better than when he was standing in the holy place.
I’ve never thought it fair how Zechariah can say “How can I be sure of this” and be struck mute, and Mary can say “How can this be” and get coddled. I'm one to notice the unfairness of things. Why was one punished for asking but the other not? I don’t really know, but I look at how long it took Mary to get her song together and how long it took Zechariah. Mary is pretty much immediately in a state of humble submission to God's plan. Zechariah needed a journey.
Jesus said “Bring the little children to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as there.” (Mark 10). I've often contemplated what characteristic it is that Jesus is lauding in children. I work with kids – in my experience, they're better at taking directions than adults (Ever take a class with all teachers in it? We are very good at GIVING directions, but not so good at FOLLOWING THEM!)
Children know that they don’t have all the answers. They know to listen to someone who does. While still listening to their heart to test for hypocrisy. I think Mary, being almost a child herself, had that trait. Her question seems to come more from confusion than disbelief.
But Zechariah. He’s the religious leader. Leader. The one who’s supposed to know. He's in the holy place to worship God and perform his acts of praise. Praise for what? A God who can't work outside the box? So he, of all people, should know that God can do what he says he will do. Yet his questions were filled with disbelief. As he goes into the holy place to offer the incense and prayer, had it felt, for too long, that those prayers hit the ceiling and didn’t go any further? How many times do I feel that I'm praying to deaf ears or more specifically that what I want and what God wants must be two different things? I pray. But I don’t believe. I certainly can't judge Zechariah’s lack of faith.
So God holds his tongue. Punishment? Yes, that’s one angle of it. But I love how God blesses us, even in the curses. Grace? Yes! What might God have shown him in the silent places of those months? How might that silence have broadened Zechariah’s view of God – being quiet before God allowed him to learn more about Him. From Him. Zechariah seems to see God's plan a bit clearer. He also seems a lot more on board with it. The silence has allowed him to align his heart with God's.
Lately, I’ve noticed quiet places missing from my life. Interesting how a season that's meant to focus on God's plan can do such a good job distracting me from it. I want to tune out the noise of my tasks. Turn down the volume of my to-do lists. My causes may be worthwhile, but a heart that is not aligned with God in the midst of them is worthless.
As I read Luke 1, I find myself invited to join the silence. Invited to join the process – however short (like Mary) or long (like Zechariah) – of aligning my heart to God’s purposes. Not my own. Because in the end, that’s what I wanted from the beginning. I wonder what that song will sound like?
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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