We continue in the Gospel of Luke with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are old and they are childless. Zechariah is a priest (not sure I mentioned that before)…and he has been chosen to offer the incense offering. He is at the altar where he had for so many years prayed for a child when the Angel came to him. The Angel told him that Elizabeth would bear a child, a child filled with the Holy Spirit, a child who would pave the way for Jesus. Zechariah, a priest, standing in the Temple, at the altar, lost sight of the miracle in front of him. He simply could not see it. He doesn’t ask about the Holy Spirit… or about the “Lord” who is coming, He’s still hung up on his own struggles. He says to the Angel (you might not know, or in case you have forgotten) “My wife and I are old, so how is this possible?”. The Angel gives a resounding “just-who-do-you-think-you’re-talking to” response.
“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. 20 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.”
In other words…. do you think for a moment that God doesn’t know that you’re old. Do you think this is impossible for God? If what comes out of your mouth is not going to be helpful, why don’t you just be quiet for a while.
Here is where the story gets comical. Zechariah is now mute. He hangs back at the altar for as long as he can, but all of these people are waiting for their priest to return. He finally comes out and starts pantomiming what has happened. It is this crazy game of Temple charades. He finally gives up and goes home. He remains mute until the John the Baptist is born.
Back up for just a moment to the part where the Angel first comes to Zrchariah. The NRSV translation says that Zachariah was “terrified.” The Greek word there is tarasso. In the book “Light of the World”, Levine says the connotation here is that Zachariah is startled or shaken up. Luke uses this word when Jesus asked the two men on the road to Emmaus, “Why are you “tarasso”? (shaken up)
“The sense of being shaken up is Advent good news. Christmas should be more than putting up the tree and wrapping the presents. It should give birth to something that shakes up the routine, something that gets us to see the world otherwise. That shaking up is what it means to follow Jesus. To love one’s enemy is scary; to take up one’s cross is terrifying. Yet at the same time, Luke reminds us, there is a legacy that carries us forward and a promise that God will remember the covenant and bring about eternal justice.” (Amy-Jill Levine, Light of the World.)
Grace and Peace at Advent