Advent means to Pause. To wait. We all wait. Some of us good at waiting. Others are not.
A family friend of mine Amy was in a season of waiting as she tried to have a child. And she and her husband tried and tried and tried– to no avail. As she watched her friends have children it was harder and harder to have faith. That her prayers would be answered. And, the years marched on by.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had a similar journey. They were much older and beyond child bearing years. The prayers were long ago unrealized. In those days if a wife didn’t produce a child, the husband could quietly dismiss her. But, they were both from priestly-faith filled families and remained committed to the journey together.
So, the day came when Zechariah, a priest was placed in the lottery to prominently burn incense in the sanctuary of the temple—close to the holy of holies. Rarely would a priest have the opportunity in a lifetime. Zechariah was gifted his one and only chance that day. And, on this holy day he enters into the silent temple and burns incense on behalf of his people. As he burned the incense on the altar, the prayers of the people would rise up to God. Their longings, their hopes, and their dreams. Even his very own.
And, God interrupts this holy time with a visit from an angel announcing the very good news that his prayers would be answered. What prayer? Is this a hallucination? A child? How could it be? And, his years of disappointments rise up even deeper. And, for his lack of faith, he is silenced. Muted. Imagine that, a pastor—a priest–muted!
In some ways, Zechariah gets a bad rap. His lack of faith is compared to the faith of Mary’s confident yes to God. But, as commentaries call Zechariah’s question the “sin of disbelief,” Barbara Brown Taylor talks about something different: “I wonder about that. You might also call it a failure of imagination, a fear of disappointment, a habit of hopelessness. He had waited a long time for something that was systematically denied him. He had gotten used to not being heard. How was he supposed to know that this time would be different?”
We have all had prayers unanswered and longings unfulfilled. Just like my friend Amy. And we get to a place that things just will never change. But, somewhere in the silence of our waiting and seemingly where dreams are muted, God does God’s best work. Maybe Zechariah’s greatest gift was his muted season of silence. Something happens to him in that waiting period as he faithfully watches the promise come to fruition. And, the world slows down. And hope births again. The silence creates a pause that brings him even closer to his father in heaven.
Maybe this season we could also embrace a season of hushed silence—like Zechariah. And Pause daily. Could we even try 5 minutes of silence each day of Advent and build it weekly to 20 minutes by Christmas time? I wonder how this could change our souls? As the interior chaos of our own hearts are hushed, God might just show up anew.
I believe as we do so, we will mute the busyness, the treadmill, and the constant churn of movement. Voices of diminishing worth and expectations are hushed. And, we are reminded that we are beloved children of the promise. In all of our waiting periods.
And, that reminder rises up like incense in our souls. Like with Zechariah, who burst into song when his son is born. Like when my friend Amy, after a few more years, is given a child on Christmas morn– singing a new song of grace. This is Advent. As we wait and we wait. For the promise.