While Rome was ruling from afar with the able and ruthless assistance of Herod, there were Priests in the land doing what Priests do. Zechariah was a Priest descendant of Moses’ brother Aaron. His wife Elizabeth was also from that lineage.
Zechariah’s job responsibilities included serving in the temple a couple weeks out of the year. One assignment included burning incense to God. This happened once in a lifetime; it was the Priest’s equivalent of winning an Oscar. It was the big prize. His honor soon turned into an EVENT. An angel, Gabriel to be specific, greeted him when Zechariah entered the temple.
It totally terrified him. Angels are supposed to stay in heaven after all! As angels usually do when encountering a human, Gabriel sought to reassure Zechariah, “Don’t be afraid!”
I don’t know why we humans are always terrified of spiritual encounters, but we are. In this case, Gabriel was here in answer to a prayer of Zechariah, but which one? The angel did not keep him waiting, explaining that Elizabeth’s barren state would soon be no more. A boy child, to be named John according to Gabriel, was going to be born to he and Elizabeth.
Now this is good news, but almost too good for aged Zechariah to accept. This wasn’t going to be just any little boy either – this one was going to be special. A messenger himself. Who can judge Zechariah for being a bit skeptical? He was. And he wanted proof. How often have you been given the gift of good news, a realized dream, a hope for the future….only to self-sabotage or refuse to believe in the possibility of change?
This doubt and demand for proof did not suit the angel; he put Zechariah in a proverbial cone of silence until the birth of John as a consequence of his reaction. Notice that this did not change the good news itself, it just altered the way Zechariah was able to participate in it. Silence can be an amazing gift; it brings clarity where clanging thoughts can often only increase confusion. After Zechariah’s enforced silence, his post-baby conversations were rich and filled with assurance of both salvation and the special place his son would play in the years ahead. These were not easy times. Herod was acting up (more on that later) and the world felt as unsettled as it always does. But Zechariah had a fresh perspective. He saw a bigger picture.
I pray that we can all find some sounds of silence this holiday season; don’t we all need some fresh perspective?