From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard,” (Luke 1:13a). It is difficult to put ourselves in Zechariah’s shoes as he heard those words. How would we respond if God sent a personal messenger to tell us that our pleas had reached God’s ears and all that we had desired was coming to pass? Do we have a big enough imagination to believe that our prayers can indeed rise up to God? These five verses from Luke 1 are packed with so much grace and divine kindness that it is hard simply as a reader not to be overwhelmed. How must Zechariah have felt? The angel informs him of God’s abundant generosity. Not only has Zechariah’s prayer been heard, but it will also be answered, bringing joy and gladness. The child who will be born to Elizabeth will be not only a gift to his parents but also a source of blessing to the people of Israel. Zechariah receives so much more than he asked for or could have imagined. At this point in the Biblical narrative we know more than Zechariah about all that will come with the blessing of his son, John the Baptist. We can never underestimate what God will do with our prayers.
From the witness of scripture it seems that God acts in ways that speak to a bigger picture than we hold. God’s gifts overflow from the recipient and into the wider community. The communal benefit is not often immediately recognizable, but when God answers the prayers of Biblical characters there is the opportunity for a host of people to be re-membered into the Kingdom of God, if not now, then eventually. So what does this offer us, we who seek to be remembered by God in our own waiting? Enduring seasons of seeming silence from God on a particular concern of ours are usually unbearable. They can, among other things, tempt us to believe that God has forgotten about us. Instead we hold onto what we know to be true about God’s character even if we don’t currently experience that truth about God, no matter how deadening and lengthy the silence. We find our faith strengthened in persisting in the commitments and spiritual disciplines of our faith life, as did Zechariah. This might provide a more blessed option than permanently checking out spiritually. It is interesting to note that when God remembers Zechariah and sends the angel Gabriel to share the good news, Zechariah is where he should be. The angel does not approach Zechariah while he drowns his sorrows with table wine or complains to his neighbors. Rather, Gabriel reveals himself while Zechariah is doing what he is supposed to be doing. Our responsibilities and commitments do not stop while we lament, hope, pray, and wait. Who knows how God will meet us when we least expect it in the very place we are meant to be?
God, you do not forget your children. You who are mother and father, remind us that nothing can separate us from your love and from your desire to be invested in your creation. Amen.