Then there appeared to him 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.” —Luke 1:11–14, 18–20
Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed throughout their married lives for the Lord to bless them with children. To have those prayers answered when it seemed far too late for them to be fulfilled must have seemed at first like a cruel joke, a message that was too little and too late. We can understand Zechariah’s doubting the angel’s word. Even if Elizabeth bore a child at such an advanced age, he couldn’t imagine seeing that child grow up and fulfill the destiny promised by the angel.
In spite of the face that he had been a holy priest all his life, serving daily in the Temple, this promise seemed too far beyond his ability to believe. It may have been a relief for Zechariah and Elizabeth to withdraw from the busyness of Temple life for a time, he in his imposed silence, she in the wonder of the new life growing in her womb. In the face of great mystery, silence might be the only authentic response.
And too often the chatter of outsiders and the gossip of those who only half understand what’s going on can be wearing and stressful. We live in a world where the most intimate sides of people’s lives can be broadcast to the world, with or without their consent. We forget that everyone has a right to privacy and personal time away from prying eyes and babbling gossip. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but technology has vastly enlarged the concept of the village gossip.
The pain of infertility is something that many people struggle with, often privately and silently. We need to guard against making assumptions (even judgments) about couples with no children. Allow people to share the intimate details of their lives if and when they choose. There are many good and personal reasons for choosing to raise children, just as there here are many other ways to be fruitful and life-giving. Sometimes silence is indeed golden.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Read the story of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–25) and reflect on the many emotions the characters must have experienced. What memories from your own life does this story awaken?
A SIMPLE GIFT
Limit your exposure to the news during the week before Christmas. We don’t realize how overwhelming our 24/7 news broadcasts can be. Even the local broadcasts morning, noon, and night come into our homes with a constant repetition of bad news that often has no real meaning for our lives beyond a salacious appeal to our curiosity. Christmas is a time to rejoice in the good news of the many wondrous things that God has done and will continue to do.