Luke 1: 24 — 25:
After these days Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion.
“This is what the Lord has done for me,” she said, “when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
FOR five months there are only two who know: you, Zechariah, and your wife. Why is that? Why do you maintain such a silence regarding the miracle growing in Elizabeth’s womb?
Well, yes: you cannot speak. That’s true.
Neither can Elizabeth speak to you as she used to do (cf. Luke 1:62). She has to make signs to make sense. That limits the discourse between you.
So maybe the enormity of the event, as signified by this radical reduction of communication in your house, has persuaded the two of you to keep it a secret. Maybe you are more than dumb: dumbfounded by the nearness of the Deity unto you.
Or have you already written down for her the prophecy that comes with this child? The Elijah-quality? That he, John, the baby for whom the two of you are now preparing, will himself prepare a whole people for the coming of the Lord? And if so, does the child already diminish the two of you in your own eyes? Are you somehow overshadowed by the divine selection of your son and humbled into quietude?
Actually, I would have thought you’d go running through the neighborhood with such elemental news.
True, true, you cannot talk—but Elizabeth can, and she has endured the reproaches of her whole community almost as long as the two of you have been married. Why wouldn’t she rush to tell others the news that she’s going to have a baby, after all? She knows that the Lord has “taken away my disgrace.” She murmurs the phrase continually like the verse of a psalm, a sweet song of thanksgiving. And there is absolutely no custom that commands women to seclude themselves during the first months of pregnancy. No one does that. The news is too beautiful.
But maybe Elizabeth is a little fearful that the child won’t come to term. Perhaps she’s suppressing any desire to boast, since telling the news too soon would turn it into a mortal shame if something interrupted it. Like a miscarriage. What if the gossips who reproached her and who then were humbled by her pregnancy, next heard the sad retraction that there’d be no baby after all? Oh, how they would redouble the reproach! The end would be worse than the beginning.
Some people think it’s unlucky to utter the precious thing at all. Naming it makes it known to good and evil alike, and since evil hates happiness, it will strive to destroy what makes you glad. Is that what you think?
Or maybe you were savoring it, keeping the child unto yourselves a while before you had to give him away (as Hannah did Samuel) to God and to the whole world.
But your silence keeps many things a secret—even the motive for the silence itself. Whatever the reason, it is your reason alone, yours and Elizabeth’s. We can never know it.
But in the fact that you are able to keep more silences than one, Zechariah, I find a remarkable lesson regarding our relationship to the God whom we—you and I—serve in this world.
That you have been made mute by Gabriel may signify your doubt and the truth of God’s promise. That was an act of God, surely.
But that you can choose for a full five months to keep the secret the actual event signifies how real is your own participation in God’s plans! Surely, this your act. Yet it matches the Lord’s. You are partners!
God is working with you to accomplish his desires for the world! Neither you nor Elizabeth is a mere puppet of the Deity. None of us is. After you returned from your duties in Jerusalem, in the night when you made wordless love with your wife so that God might love the world thereby, that was not the blind compulsion of sexual urges. Nor was it an act coerced by a controlling God. It was obedience! And true obedience was ever an act of freedom, never the reaction to oppression. Obedience unto God is personal participation in the love of God!
Even so let me willingly match my action to the will of the Lord. Whatever my immediate reasons for choosing to be like him, let the larger one ever be thanks that he chose to be like me, to save me from my sin.
Then blessed am I. And blessed are we all. Blessed is everyone through whom God reaches into this world to love others, for we are partners in the Gospel from this day until the day of Jesus, when God shall bring our good work to completion.
O Lord Jesus:
You have chosen me to serve you by serving your people here in the world. Such choosing proves your love for me and for the the world.
Now I, my Lord, also choose. I pledge to serve you by serving your people here, in my world. Freely, joyfully I obey your word, because I love you more than anything.
Yes! Yes, I do.