Readings: Psalm 27; Malachi 2:10-3:1; Luke 1:5-17
Then there appeared to Zechariah an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “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. 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.” [ Luke 1:11-14, 18-20, NRSV]
I’ve lived long enough to know that it takes courage to tell anyone when I get a glimpse of God’s love, and how that love can change everything. There just aren’t words to do such things justice, and there aren’t many who would believe them if there were. How much harder would it be to speak of an angel’s visit? Of a child who would be born well past childbearing years? Of a son who would be keenly aware of God’s love and holiness, and equally aware of the waywardness of the human soul? Of the one who would recognize and baptize God-With-Us?
Perhaps the angel didn’t remove Zechariah’s speech as a punishment, but as a kindness. Until his son arrived, until he saw it come true in the flesh, until he could say these words with conviction, he wouldn’t have to say them at all:
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. [Psalm 27:13, NRSV]