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Dec 02, 2018

Zechariah was Silent

Passage: Luke 1:5-25

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: Christmas Responses

Category: Advent

Keywords: advent, silence, solitude, thoughts, words, zechariah

Summary:

The season of advent begins. As we give thanks to the Triune God for God coming in the flesh in Jesus, we look forward in trusting hope for Christ to come again as he promised. Our theme for the season will be Christmas responses. We’ll relate the responses of the key figures in the Christmas stories to our thankful responses to the Triune God for Christ’s coming, in the hope and anticipation of his coming again. Our first story is about Zechariah the priest. Zechariah isn’t sure God’s good news can apply to him anymore. Because he doubts he is made silent until the birth of his son, John. Our first response in this season is to choose times of solitude and silence over against the distracting noise and busyness of the season until our thoughts submit to God’s promises.

Detail:

Are you a little stiff this morning from all the shoveling last Sunday and Monday?

The snowstorm forced us to exercise

those shoveling muscles we haven’t used in a while. And now as the holiday season begins there are

some neglected emotional and spiritual muscles

we are feeling the pressure to use, too.

 

Now maybe you nod and say I know,

I’ve got to find the energy

to  get gifts for the people on my list,

I’ve got to find time to attend

 all those obligatory Christmas gatherings,

and I’ve got to try to be happy this season.

 

But I know you’re better than that.

So we’re thinking more about

the emotions and spiritual postures

of the advent season:

not the Christmas preparations,

but the Christ preparations.

The thing is

all these other holiday season circumstances

can get you too worn out and stiff and sore

to desire these deeper, holy, Christmas responses

for which we are truly made.

 

So this Christmas season

we’re going to notice and apply

holy Christmas responses

from the main gospel characters

in order to renew our glory for God

and the gift of his Son, our Savior.

 

Our first response comes from the story of Zechariah, the priest, the old man

who had long ago given up on having children,

but was now told by an angel

that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son

who would prepare the way for the Lord.

Zechariah can’t believe the news.

His resignation is shattered by expectation,

dare I believe it?

Years of prayer without seeing the answer he desired perhaps,

or perhaps simply just because of his age

he knew having a child was impossible,

he had worked so hard to bury this hope,

could God resurrect it again?

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Zechariah is a priest.

He knows the Old Testament scriptures well.

And like Old Testament patriarchs before,

he asks for a sign,

some sort of confirmation he can point to,

understand,

rest on.

Like Abraham way back in Genesis 15 –

vs 8 - But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know . . .?

God’s people have been through this before.

Zechariah is now asked to join that journey

of promise and faith.

And so are we.

 

The angel Gabriel does grant Zechariah a sign.

Not externally, but within his person.

Zechariah himself will be the sign.

“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.”

Immediately Zechariah is not able to speak.

 

This reminds us we’re not living in Old Testament

times anymore, Christ has come,

Christ will come again.

So the LORD rarely gives signs now.

The Spirit makes us the signs.

You are the sign of promise.

She is a sign of grace.

Together, church, gathered in Christ’s name,

we are the sign of salvation.

 

The angel responds with a severe sort of mercy.

You won’t be able to speak now until the baby is born so that you know this truth.

The angel effectively terminates his priestly service by this pronouncement.

The angel also restores the hope and expectation Zechariah had lost.

Did I really see an angel?

Did God really promise us a child,

a child to serve in the coming kingdom?

Did I just dream it all?

But wait, I can’t speak.

Yes, just as the angel said.

I guess if God could make a preacher be quiet he can do anything!

 

The sign is not just for Zechariah, but for Elizabeth and the whole community also.

Remember, there hasn’t been a word from God

to his people for 400 years.

The LORD has been silent.

Now God speaks and his priest is silent before that true and gracious Word.

 

Could it be the Lord will come and deliver us?

Why would an angel come to Gabriel of all people?

But look, he’s had his voice taken away.

Something is happening; Zechariah is a sign.

His priestly service isn’t terminated after all

but by his silence his service is transformed.

Just as the Lord’s coming transforms

all his people down to you and me.

How are we included?

The Gospel of Luke

presents this first story of Christmas

as fulfillment of all God has been doing.

Zechariah responds like Abraham had responded

at the news of a promised child.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are described like

Elkanah and Hannah before the birth of Samuel.

So first Abraham,

who represents the covenant law of God,

and now Samuel, who represents the prophets.

After the law and prophets come the writings, Gabriel only appears by name in the book of Daniel,

and now Gabriel is the angel

that appears to Zechariah

and brings the message of the birth of his son

who will prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

To both Daniel and Zechariah

the angel comes in a vision during prayer

and the message is, ‘Do not be afraid.’

 

The law, the prophets, the writings,

and now the coming one to prepare Messiah’s way.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, of all people,

are included in the covenant promise.

The message for us is that we are included also.

 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were the last couple

you would guess to be chosen

as parents to raise the one

who prepared the way of the Messiah.

Zechariah was a priest, but not one of great renown,

not well known,

not serving in an important religious area of Judea. These were hill country people.

Away from the prestige and power and connections

of Jerusalem.

There was a tremendous stigma attached

to being without children,

which one’s wife probably felt most keenly.

No doubt some neighbors judged

that being childless was the “judgment of God,”

for some sin they had committed.

But the Lord chooses Zechariah and Elizabeth,

not out of judgment,

but this happens, as most things happen,

for the display of God’s glory.

 

This promise is for you and me also.

So do not be afraid.

No wonder Zechariah is the sign

but made one for all those around him.

 

Included in the promise,

we are also included in the sign.

Zechariah is a sign of the first Christmas response:

it is a peculiar response: silence.

 

Silence, is our first response of Christmas.

For Zechariah, it is an imposed silence,

but for us it is a grace,

it is a blessing but a radical one

that the world doesn’t understand

and even despises.

Why is silence an important Christmas response?

 

We are so in love with our own words and thoughts. We have to admit that sometimes

we love our words more than the words of others, and even sometimes more than the word of God.

So it is a mercy for us to confess

that our words don’t save us,

they don’t confirm our identity,

Jesus does.

He is the Word.

We use so many words,

and we misuse so many words by our

   lies,

      gossip,

        spinning words to make us look good at the expense of others,

           bullying,

             hurtful texts,

               divisive social media posts.

 

Can you receive it then as a mercy that

sometimes God forces us to be silent?

Someone taken away from us suddenly

could be a forced silence.

Sometimes we feel regret and wish

we had said something when we had the chance,

but other times the Lord stops our words

so that he has room to make new and whole.

I’ve noticed that funerals give us a time

to exercise kindness and gratitude

that maybe we don’t always exercise,

because now of course,

we cannot speak together anymore,

a forced silence that makes room

for a gracious kindness even we can give.

 

Sometimes God gives us times of silence

to be near to us in his word.

Listening to a sermon is one of those times.

You have to be quiet and exercise listening,

listening for grace, for the Spirit is a kind of repentance for our love of our own words.

Some have a hard time being quiet during sermons.

But now is the time to learn to be silent.

And can’t we confess

how even if our mouths are quiet

it is hard to still our thoughts?

See how much in love we are with our thinking?

 

Zechariah’s story leads me

to the surprise of silence in a noisy season

and whether I will deliberately choose silence

in order to hope in the promises of the Lord

and his Christ.

 

What can silence do for us?

How can silence give glory to God?

The Bible says in Psalm 46 –

Be still and know that I am God.

Being still is a prerequisite for knowing God,

the psalm instructs.

 

Look ahead to the work of our Savior

in delivering us from sin -

Jesus is with his spiritual community, his disciples. They have been engaged in spiritual battles –

Mark 6:13 reports they are driving out demons, healing many sick,

traveling on trust,

thankful for welcome,

sometimes enduring rejection.

Just when the disciples are doing a lot

and striving to accomplish more

Jesus says,

come with me by yourselves to a quiet place . . .

Solitude is needed.

Silence is required for God’s people.

 

Jesus didn’t just say, come away to a quiet place,

he said, come away WITH ME to a quiet place.

In solitude I let go of my accomplishments,

my agenda,

even my own thinking,

I am silent in word and thought,

so the Holy Spirit has room to counsel and comfort.

Why? Because without knowing it,

most of us let two desires drive and motivate us:

the desire for a little more,

and the desire to be a little better.

‘More’ and ‘good’ become the way we relate to God:

our prayers are for a little more,

our faith strives to be a little better.

I wonder if I’m good enough.

I fear I don’t have enough.

And it wears us down,

distancing us from God and the reality of his grace.

The Spirit’s simple gift of setting these strivings aside,

not having to do,

not having to think,

not having to produce,

not having to acquire or consume,

is the reason for silence,

and it’s a blessing.

 

Of course, we are not very good at this.

But if we are going to have

deep engagement with Scripture,

be people of prayer,

learn the joys of Sabbath rest,

and know that the LORD is God,

we must first learn to be still

in solitude and silence with God.

 

Parker Palmer writes, The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient.

It knows how to survive in hard places.

But it is also shy.

Just like a wild animal,

it seeks safety in dense underbrush.

If we want to see a wild animal,

we know that the last thing we should do

is go crashing thru the woods

yelling for it to come out.

But if we will walk quietly,

sit patiently,

and be still,

the wild wonder we seek might put in an appearance.

Our soul,

that part of ourselves touched by grace and mercy, made for a relationship with Jesus as Savior,

Lord, brother, and friend of sinners . . .

our soul will stay hidden

in the busyness and noisiness of life.

It’s tricky to get the soul to come out.

We are not very safe for ourselves,

because our internal experiences most often

lead to regret, critique and judgment,

so the soul prefers the safety of the underbrush, hidden away.

A lot of what we do is scaring the soul away.

 

But your soul is safe with God.

Being still is where the healing and

cleansing and assuring and counseling comes.

 

So how are you

at the practice of solitude and silence?

When was the last time you were still?

When was the last time you were still before God?

 

Zechariah’s silence is an invitation for each of us to

exercise these spiritual muscles

this advent season,

and if you have children,

include them in this discipline also.

You may only be able to do this for five minutes,

one day a week to start,

and even that you may not be able

to succeed at doing initially.

But it is my hope that this can become a regular spiritual practice for you, a habit,

10 minutes a day,

one hour once a week.

One afternoon or evening a month or a season,

one day at least once a year.

Can you imagine not doing anything or saying a word but experiencing God’s presence

for one whole day?

So how about you try for 5 or 10 minutes at first.

I think it’s worth it because

I rarely learn anything when I am talking,

   I must learn to listen,

      I must learn to be still,

         to quiet my soul and mind,

            in order to get in touch with my soul

               and perceive the presence of Jesus.

 

There isn’t one right way or foolproof method,

it is a habit.

 

Here’s one way to practice this discipline –

choose a safe and comfortable place.

So this is not in your car driving home from work.

This is not watching your kids at the playground.

This is not while your computer or TV or both are on

or you have your phone in hand.

 

If you don’t have a place

sometimes just turning your chair around

or closing a door can make that place.

Turn your chair away from your computer screen

or towards a window.

Sit quietly for a few moments

and take a few slow deep breaths.

Don’t try to make anything,

to think about God or a Bible verse

don’t reflect on your day.

Just be still.

 

Thoughts will come.

When you try to be still,

and attempt to quiet your mind,

you will be amazed at how many thoughts

you all of the sudden need to think,

you will instantly be overtaken by remembering things you have to do,

and suspect that if you don’t do them right now

you will forget.

So a simple trick in learning to be still is

to have a piece of paper and a pen by you,

and when that thought comes saying,

don’t forget to get some milk,

or remember you said you were going to call dad,

just write that down and leave it,

it will be there for you when you finish.

Don’t focus on them either

trying to get beyond them or figure them out,

simply give them to God.

Feel the difference of not fighting these thoughts,

but letting God fight for you.

Be still and rest in knowing God is there

with you in Christ,

and that is enough for now.

Simply say in your mind,

be still and know that the Lord is God.

The experience of God’s presence may come,

it may not,

rest may come,

or great temptation may be present,

continue simply offering that to God.

Has it been a minute, two, five, ten?

These are the beginning steps.

 

In the quiet you may hear from the Lord,

it may not yet be time,

for we wait,

this is up to the Spirit.

Our lives belong to the Lord,

that’s the point.

End with the simple question,

How is it with my soul?

Would I say I’m tired,

fearful,

anxious,

at rest,

hopeful,

thankful,

full of joy,

or maybe I don’t know?

Do I know I am loved by my Heavenly Father?

So I will practice again,

and wait for the Lord tomorrow again.

Solitude and silence.

A holy space for your resignation

to submit again,

or for the first time,

to transcendent expectation.

Be still, and know that the Lord is God.

Silence is our first Christmas response.