The punishment for Zechariah’s unbelief seems disproportionately harsh: no voice for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy? Really? This punishment comes from a God who says it’s enough to have faith as small as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). Zechariah doesn’t outright reject the angel’s message, after all. He doesn’t laugh the way Sarah does when she overhears that she will bear a son in her old age (Genesis 18:12).
He just asks how he can be sure the angel is telling the truth, a fair question to put to any stranger who promises to fulfill the deepest desires of your heart. So why is Zechariah prevented from speaking for the better part of a year?
Perhaps we can see Zechariah’s silence not as a punishment but as a gift. As the child grows in Elizabeth’s belly, he is given space to reflect quietly. He won’t run off at the mouth, crowding out the Spirit inside him with his own blathering. He’s saved from saying stupid things, from bragging about his encounter with the angel, from broadcasting his skepticism.
Rather than questioning the silence God imposes on Zechariah, we might consider adopting a habit of quietude ourselves this Advent. In a season of stimulation—lights! music! sugar!—we need to carve out space to reflect and prepare. In these final days before Christmas, find a quiet corner. Turn off the Christmas station. Set aside your phone. Open your Bible and listen. What is the Spirit saying to you?
Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening.
Help me to quiet my buzzing thoughts. What do you want me to hear?
What invitation are you extending to me today? Amen.