Dec 5 Advent Reflection: Reframe
December 5, 2015 at 4:41 am Categories: Digging Deeper
For an extended version of this reflection, click here.
“A voice cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken’’” (Isa. 40:3-5).
“Elizabeth was barren and both [she and Zechariah] were advanced in years” (Lk. 1:7). The days were tired. Evening never came soon enough. It’d been a long life under Roman rule. It’s not that they are ready to die. It’s just that they’re not ready to start a new life. It’s time to slow down. They are at peace with God. They’ve lived faithfully (cf. Lk. 1:6). And the burdens of the priesthood would soon be carried out by another generation. Zechariah had spent these latter years training up young men, seeing in their faces the son he never had. But he’d already grieved that unanswered prayer…and then God answered it (Lk. 1:13).
Are you sure you’ve got the right address? Zechariah says, in effect, to the angel Gabriel: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man…” (Lk. 1:18). Gabriel is annoyed. “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God…” (Lk. 1:19). How will you know? You will know when an angel who stands in the presence of God comes and tells you! So Gabriel silences him.
It is impossible to know why Zechariah doubted or exactly what the nature of the doubt actually was. Age was certainly a factor. But he seems to have more than just a question about fertility odds. Gabriel said that his son would “be filled with the Holy Spirit…and come to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…” (Lk. 1:15-17). Zechariah was priest. He knew where that line came from. It’s the very last line of the “Old Testament” (Mal. 4:5-6), which, for Zechariah, was not yet “Old.” It was just kind of….“on hold.” For it to become “Old” it would have to be fulfilled. And given the nature of the prophecy, if it were being fulfilled, everything was about to be fulfilled. Zechariah had spent his life learning how to believe that God’s promised future would happen—in the future. And in a moment, that future was beginning right now. Zechariah would have to reframe all he’d ever believed. The time was at hand…
For nine months this teacher of the Law will be unable to speak. He will not be able to serve as a priest. He will be removed from any ordinary social roles. His priestly duties, teaching of the Covenant, service at the altar, temple staff meetings, all those things will now be put on hold–because all those things were about to become “Old.” It’s no wonder that when he does open his mouth for the first time after nine months it is no longer as a priest but as a prophet: “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying…” And out came in concentrated form the announcement that all of God’s promised future was at hand (Lk. 1:67-79). The priesthood was being silenced, because the Lamb that was coming would need no assistance at the altar.
Sometimes the Lord shakes up our world (changes in circumstance) to prepare us for repentance (a change in our mind and heart, tomorrow’s word). Often these times of reframing are necessary, because it’s all too easy to believe in the God of yesterday in such a way that we fail to hear the God of today. If we are ever going to learn how to speak what God is saying today, we must first learn how to be silent in his presence. God always raises up the Voice of his Spirit from the silence, and the silence only exists in the presence of the present.
“Let your presence proceed from absence and your voice proceed from silence” (Fred Craddock).
“A voice cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way…”