Nine months earlier, Zechariah the priest had taken his turn to burn incense before the Lord in the temple sanctuary in Jerusalem. It was there that he had his encounter with Gabriel who announced the remarkable answer to Zechariah’s prayer for a child. Yet as Gabriel spoke, the old priest became incredulous over the possibility that the angel had proclaimed. He questioned the ministering spirit from God, “How shall I know this?” Notice that his response is so different from that of Mary who received even more extraordinary news. When Gabriel informed her that she, who had known no man, would conceive a child, she had replied, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Hers was an acceptance of Gabriel’s words and a declaration of how incomprehensible it was to her. But Zechariah wanted a sign. The word from God’s own throne was not enough for him. He wanted more. So he was made mute (and apparently deaf, according to Luke 1:62) for the entirety of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. There would be a season of silence for the priest who had offered the fragrant smoke-swirled symbol of the prayers of God’s covenant people.
It was out of this silence that Zechariah burst forth in exultant praise accompanied by his own prophetic utterance in what Church tradition has called The Benedictus. It was a season of silence in which he was able to contemplate his own lack of faith and the promise that demanded it that led to a prophetic witness to God’s greatness. It would serve as a precursor to the greater work of his son, John. He would end a silence that the Lord had imposed on Israel so that she could have a season to consider both her own lack of faith and the powerful promises of the Lord God Almighty. This season would not be for a mere nine months. It ended only after 460 years had passed since the prophetic ministry of Malachi. Out of the silence, the voice came.
Sometimes God gives us silence. Not because He is done with us. Far from it. He allows us time so that all of the competing voices might fade and we would yearn for His voice again. So often we hear His voice best when it comes out of silence. The voice of faithless reason competed with Gabriel’s marvelous announcement of the very thing that God promised to do- -the thing that only God could do. Doubt shouted so loudly in Zechariah’s soul that he was incapable of considering Who it was that sent Gabriel with this message in the first place. So God gave silence.
He gives it still. He gives it so that we might return to a place where we can begin again. He gives it so that we might recognize a pattern that has existed from the very beginning.
It was out of the silence, the deep silence of the darkness and void, that the voice of the Eternal Father said, “Let there be light.”
And it was out of the silence of the warm, dark womb of the Virgin that the Son of the Father gave voice to the newborn’s cry of life’s arrival.
Out of the silence, the Voice came. And He comes still.