Not only had Zach's own most fervent lifelong prayer--a God-honoring one, even, for a son--gone unanswered, but that was par for the course for the last five hundred years. Five hundred years. That's more than twice the length of time that the U.S. has been a nation. God had not acted for his people. His chosen nation lived under a Roman thumb eager to smush them. No miracles. No explanations.
And yet even when the only thing he heard were crickets, or their Middle Eastern relatives,
still Zach served. Throughout his life. Without expecting--though I believe, deep in his heart, hoping--to see something, anything, that would display God's nearness. Or at least his awareness. He left his wife at home and donned his robe every time it was his turn to man the temple. And he prayed and offered sacrifices and blessings. Faithfully.
Then one day, his lot gets cast to go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the altar. A big deal. Exciting. Maybe nerve-wracking. I mean, there were bells on the robe and a rope around his ankle, so if he did something wrong and bit the dust right then and there, they could drag him out without further offending the Lord. Or maybe not so nerve wracking. I mean, would God break generations of stillness to snuff out one old man? Apparently Zack thought it was possible. He revered this God who did not provide good parking spots, or green lights, or last-second victories for the home team. Who hadn't given him a son. He was faithful. Righteous.
In the midst of the nothing.
Well, when he went in, the angel appeared and all that silence shattered in an instant into thousands of tiny, irreparable pieces. An angel of the Lord says, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John." Zack blinks. Opens his mouth. Closes it again. Scratches behind his right ear. I probably would have said, "what?" But not Zack. He's a step ahead. "How?"
I think it's a testament to Zack's faith that the angel gets a little testy at this point. I mean, we're talking not just one entire life of zilch, but all the grands he can remember had zilch too. Except for weird Aunt Bertha who would always predict God's will and then change her forecast when it didn't come true.
For most of us, certainly for me, the angel would have had to scrape me off the ground and slap my cheeks a few times, let me pinch myself to ensure I wasn't dreaming, and then repeat the whole thing half a dozen times while I tried not to squint skeptically.
But Zack? His faith is so staid, so thick and solid that the angel really expects him to take all this in without question.
Even after all the nothing.
One seemingly fair question, and the angel makes Zach mute until his son is born and they name him John.
Only I think it was an act of grace, not temper, that silenced Zach. When you've lived in silence that long, there is nothing scarier than hope. Before he even got to the miracle-baby part...God had heard his prayers? God had listened? All that stillness wasn't a lack of attentiveness. It was just...stillness. Broken now, with an old guy. Not the wittiest priest, or strongest, or even the best teacher. For real?
Why him? Why now, when he and Elizabeth were so old? Running after a toddler? At his age, with knees that ached when it rained? And Elizabeth, as much as she would love a son...well, he'd heard the hollers and screams from other homes when a birth came. Could she make it through it? But then the angel had said they would have a son. Still, it was all too crazy.
It was the last time he'd eat Taco Bell before going on shift. That had to be it. Because if it was true...it would be the very best thing Zack could imagine. Just the thought lifted his heart off the ground, made it soar. That God heard his prayers, and promised to answer them. I mean, hoping for a special moment in the Holy of Holies was one thing, but this? To believe would lean him way further out over nothing but faith than he'd ever dared before.
And therein lay the problem. What if he was wrong? If he was being a foolish old man and it didn't happen, well, he really wasn't sure if he'd survive. No, that wasn't it. He was certain he wouldn't survive. The fall would crush his heart.
Yes, hope is so very dangerous.
But the angel left him mute. An inescapable sign that something had happened. A constant reminder. Whenever he wanted to welcome a parishioner, when he wanted to tell Elizabeth he was home, when he gave in and decided to order Taco Bell again, he would be reminded that God had broken his silence.
It was something.
He couldn't ask others to pray that God would fulfill his will, he couldn't share doubts and cynicism with Elizabeth. It was a bit ironic, certainly, that when God decided to speak, he also decided Zach shouldn't.
But then maybe not so ironic. Maybe that would be a gift we could all benefit from.
I get edgy when I don't hear God, don't feel him, don't sense his movement. I start to wonder what might be him, if he even sees me anymore. If in all the bustle of all the lives on the planet, I'm just not worth the time and energy it would take to relate. And it hasn't been centuries since he's moved perceptibly. It hasn't even been my whole life. And even when I feel lost and can't find him, he moves in those around me. Even when I don't feel it, I see it.
I'm so thankful for these supports to my fragile faith. Thankful that God is faithful even when I am not, that his love extends to the Heavens. That two-thousand years ago he broke his stillness and sent his Son to this earth late Christmas night to answer prayers none of us knew to pray in the first place.
My Dearest, when I lose you I miss you desperately. I'm afraid so often to lean hard into you. I'm not even sure what that, distilled, means. Thank you for the pillars that do. For the Zachs I can lean on. Thank you most that you are love. That as far fetched as it sometimes seems, you always see me and love me more than I can take in. Help me get that. In the meantime, I will try to remember who you are and how narrow my perspective really is. To trust your love even when I can't see it. All my love.