Learning To Speak Again
One of the lectionary readings for the Season of Advent is the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, being visited by an angel in chapter one of the Gospel of Luke.
The angel appears to Zechariah, who is doing his priestly duties in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
The angel then announces to Zechariah that even though he and his wife Elizabeth are old, they will have a child (they had been unable to), and that child would be used by God in amazing ways.
Zechariah doesn't believe the angel and is rendered unable to speak after the encounter with a promise that his speech will return upon the birth of his son.
This story has some fascinating aspects, and I've been thinking about it for a while.
The news that came to Zechariah was so unbelievable, so far-fetched that even though it was being delivered by an other-worldly being, he couldn't believe it.
He and his wife had spent years together longing for a child, eventually giving up that dream and putting it away. The idea that all those abandoned hopes might be realized was too impossible to consider.
Something occurred to me about Zechariah's encounter with the angel. What if God's Divine presence and voice had always been there? What if the message of new life, a new beginning, a world made right had always been spoken, but Zechariah could not perceive it?
The great 20th-century reformed theologian Karl Barth had this to say in his reflection on that story from Luke's Gospel:
Every one of us has a hidden side of our being that is, as it were, in touch with God. We are secretly in a close connection with the eternal truth and love, even if we ourselves are not aware of it. And from this other hidden side of our being resounds a voice that is actually speaking to us constantly.
For Barth, Zechariah's inability to speak came from a place of doubt, and this story highlights a universal problem that all of us waiting in a new world must face.
So many of us find that we cannot speak of our longings for a new world because we feel hopeless and helpless in the old one. We don't want to seem naive, perhaps. Or we think our expectations need to be lowered to something more realistic.
Like Zechariah, we are struck speechless in our doubt.
But praise God that when the kingdom of God breaks into our reality, and we get glimpses of a new world, we get a second chance at speaking about it.
There are moments when we can truly see the world made right. We have experienced the shalom of God within our souls, and our voices return at total volume.
And we realize that the ever-speaking voice of God is always speaking love, grace, and peace over us. We can hear the promises of redemption and restoration more clearly and see God's presence all around us.
This realization comes from within---what Barth called our hidden side. The secret side of our being that is always in touch with God is one that we often try desperately to quiet because we love the sound of our voices.
This is odd because in our minds (and maybe in our hearts as well), we long to hear the voice of God even as we struggle for supremacy about whose voice is loudest.
So, during this season of Advent, quiet your voice and listen for God. Look around for God's presence. Don't be afraid to wish out loud for a better world and a better you. Speak boldly about what God is doing and will do to make all things new.
The world will be made right. It is being made right. You are being made right.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.