Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift of Silence

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.  Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John…  Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God.  I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.  But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Luke 1:10-13, 18-20)

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

As a child, I remember hearing this Gospel story and thinking that God was someone I wouldn’t want to cross.  One misstep, one false word and you might be zapped.  Unable to speak.  For nine whole months!  For someone whose name was written on the blackboard in elementary school for talking in class, it sounded like a dreadful punishment. 

But now I look at this story a little differently.  Maybe the imposed silence was actually a gift from God.  It could be that Zechariah needed to do some pondering, and God simply carved out the time and space in which he could do just that.  Maybe Zechariah needed to ask himself just how much he trusted in the Lord.  After all, he and Elizabeth had longed for and prayed for a child.  And here was God answering that prayer.  Maybe Zechariah needed to reconsider his doubt-filled response.  Who is he (or who are we) to put limits on what God can do for us?  Maybe none of us have ever had a child in our old age, but if you look back over your life, you can surely identify times when God has blessed you in some totally unexpected manner.

Perhaps Zechariah needed space to think about gratitude.  Here an angel of the Lord tells him his deepest longing is about to be fulfilled, and he never even says thank you.  Instead, he questions God’s ability to bring this about.  A few months of thinking about the ways in which he is blessed might not be such a terrible thing.  It could change his life or our lives forever if we lived out of thankfulness.

In stark contrast to our frenetic secular Christmas preparations, Advent is a relatively quiet time of prayerful anticipation.   Carve out some silence for yourself in the days ahead to ponder the mystery of the loving God who’s coming into our lives we both long for and celebrate during this season of short days and long nights.

Correction to last Friday’s Daily Tripod:  St. Juan Diego was actually 57 years old when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him outside of Mexico City.

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