Day 2 of Advent, my favorite season on the church calendar. Yesterday I taught a lesson on Zechariah and Elizabeth and one of the commentaries I read mentioned the “400 years of prophetic silence” that Israel had endured before, suddenly, the angel Gabriel showed up while Zechariah was trying to perform a once in a lifetime job in the Holy Place.
How could Zechariah be skeptical when the angel told him he was going to be a dad? This was the question we bandied about in class, and Zechariah didn’t get a lot of sympathy. He was a priest, for crying out loud, in the Holy Place, talking to a bona fide angel. Was this any time to be dubious? I understand that argument, but a couple of people also mentioned his age as a reason that he should have had more faith. He was an old man, Zechariah. Doesn’t wisdom come with age?
I think, just possibly, getting worn out comes with age. Getting tired of waiting comes with age. Fading optimism comes with age.
400 years. No prophetic voice. Israel gets passed around like a bad wedding gift, from the Babylonians to the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans. And all the while, God – Israel’s God – is quiet.
Zechariah the priest serves this silent God even as the decades pass and nothing changes – not for Israel, and not for Zechariah and his barren wife, Elizabeth. Or nothing changes until suddenly, crazily, it does. Gabriel shows up, a prophetic baby is promised, and Zechariah’s skepticism earns him a temporary silencing of his own.
I can identify with Zechariah. I’ve mentioned before that I’m wired for doubting. I’m likely to be the last person to jump on a bandwagon, and the first person to tick off an angel with my crotchety questions. And I’ve also been experiencing radio silence for a while now. I’ve mentioned that, too – how barren the last year or so has been, spiritually. How quiet God has been. Like Zechariah, I’ve been trying to show up and do my job, anyway. Put on the robes, burn the incense, hope it matters to the unspeaking God. Teach the class, lead the prayer, hope that God is receiving the offering of this tired, waiting servant.
But the great thing about Advent is that it transforms waiting into something beautiful, something meaningful. Waiting for the Messiah becomes our “reasonable service”: waiting on God to move, to speak, becomes the incense we burn. We hope, we expect, we wait.
Zechariah didn’t have to wait forever, of course. The God who was always present in the silence acted and the fulfillment of Messianic promises was set in motion. I won’t have to wait forever, either. The God who has spoken to me before will speak again. He is not finished with me. He will come, my weariness and my ragged-edged optimism notwithstanding. He always comes, because – as Zechariah was reminded – He keeps His promises. Zechariah’s name meant “God remembers”, and He certainly does. He remembers His purposes for us long after we’ve started to lose sight of them.
So I have big plans for this Advent season. I’m going to wait. With Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Simeon and Anna, with all the other old folks who hung in there until their waiting made sense. It’s not flashy, it’s not exciting, but it’s what’s often required of the people of God. I’ll hope, I’ll expect, I’ll wait. That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it.