For the 4 Sundays of Advent this year, I’m focusing on Luke chapter one up until Mary’s Song. This week, we’ll be looking at the character of Zechariah. Next week, Mary. Third week, Elizabeth. And then we’ll conclude our Advent reflections with Mary’s Song.
Zechariah: Unbelief and the Silencing of Patriarchy
Read: Luke 1: 5 – 25
In the gospel of Luke, the story leading to the birth of Jesus begins with Zechariah, an old, cynical priest. Zechariah’s life was a mix of privilege and shame. Being an older priest afforded him honour in the community. Having a barren wife, presumed to be a problem with Elizabeth (even the text says, “they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive”), brought the heaviness of despair.
When confronted with the spectacular news, brought by an angel no less, that he will be given a son who will bring him joy and delight, Zechariah cannot help but bring his cynicism and the pain of year upon year of hope lost to the surface: “How can I be sure of this?”
One can almost imagine Gabriel, non-binary badass of the angelic host, drawing themselves to their full stature, thinking to themselves, “Wow, this guy is a piece of work”, and then saying with a blend of both power and compassion, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
And in that naked moment, the cranky old priest is faced with the exposure of all of his presumption, all of his blaming and finger-pointing, all of his bitterness, all of his need, all of his broken dreams, all of his long-lost longing …. and in the months of silence to come Zechariah will be reborn. As Gabriel proclaimed, his heart will turn towards his child – no longer relying on position and power to give his life meaning. His cynical unbelief will relent. In the silence, experiencing Elizabeth’s belly swell, child-like wonder and resolute faith will arise.
Are there broken dreams you are carrying? Do you hide them behind persona, position, or power? Does cynicism keep you from believing God promises good for your life?
God, birth in us new hope. Grant us the gift of wonder and faith. And may we find new life in believing. Amen.