Be Quiet and Listen!

December 23, 2021

He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. —Luke 1:63-65

I used to think Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was cursed when he was struck dumb for the nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. I wasn’t quite sure why he was punished for asking the angel Gabriel how  Elizabeth would have a baby in her old age. Wasn’t Mary’s question about the equivalent when she asked how she would get pregnant with Jesus? She wasn’t struck dumb for her question, so why was Zechariah?

Then someone pointed it out to me. Luke’s Gospel has an overarching theme of God as a God of reversals, a God who overturns the status quo as Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat yesterday. God lifts up the downtrodden and deposes rulers from their thrones and we see that in the story of John the Baptist’s parents also. Zechariah was greatly honored and respected in his culture for three reasons: because he was male, he was an elder, and he was a priest. He had a voice in society, and he was used to people listening to him. His wife, Elizabeth, on the other hand, had no voice. She was a woman, she was barren, and she was not allowed to step foot in the holy sanctuary because she is not a priest. Her words didn’t carry the same weight as her husband’s. How perfect of a reversal then, that Zechariah couldn’t speak for nine months so Elizabeth can be heard. I like to think that in those months when he couldn’t talk, Zechariah learned to listen — to his wife, to others whose voices often went unheard, and to God speaking in the quiet of his heart. I’m guessing that he finally learned that you can’t hear if you’re the one doing all the talking. Which means God didn’t curse Zechariah with muteness, God blessed him by striking him dumb.

For action: Which is more natural for you – to speak so much that others’ voices go unheard, or to fail to speak when your voice needs to be heard? How might God be calling you to be more like Elizabeth or Zechariah before John the Baptist’s birth?