Speechless

This obviously is a topic I know nothing about.

Have you ever had something happen that was so profound that it rendered you speechless? Like, literally not able to make words or even syllables come out of your mouth? Yeah, me neither. But we do know that it can happen to some people when a unexpected surprise comes along suddenly and without warning.

Zachariah experienced speechlessness. Not just for a moment, but for many, many months. He received the unexpected news from an angel that he and his wife (both “long in tooth and older than the hills”) were expecting a baby. Elizabeth had waited all of her life for a child, but was barren through her child-bearing years. Now, in her geriatric phase, she was suddenly pregnant. What the heck? The news was so startling, it took her breath, and Zachariah’s voice, away:

Luke 1 (The Message)

18 Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”

19-20 But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”

AHA! So it was the angel who took Zachariah’s voice away! Seems a little harsh, no? In the presence of an angel, in the moment of an unbelievable proclamation, the aged priest expressed his incredulity. That seems fair and reasonable, doesn’t it?

In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he explains it simply: “His unbelief was silenced.” That simple statement helps us to see it a different way. Zachariah was a man of influence, a temple priest. Were he to use his pulpit to brag, embellish, or publicly express doubt about the whole thing, the truth of Elizabeth’s pregnancy would always remain in question. As we know, pulpit-holders are held to a higher accountability:

Titus 1 (The Message)

5-9 Appoint leaders in every town according to my instructions. As you select them, ask, “Is this man well-thought-of? Is he committed to his wife? Are his children believers? Do they respect him and stay out of trouble?” It’s important that a church leader, responsible for the affairs in God’s house, be looked up to—not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry.

He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it.

And in fact, Zachariah’s speech was not returned to him until he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John,” as the angel had instructed him to do. With this sentence he confirmed the truth of John’s miraculous conception and affirmed John’s place in the story as the one who came to prepare the way for the Messiah, who was also miraculously conceived.

Maybe you woke up this morning and had second thoughts about something. Perhaps a moment of unbelief has come upon you in a difficult situation. You may be having doubts about God’s presence in your mess. God won’t render you speechless, but he most certainly will come to you in the quietness of your contemplation in a “Be still, and know that I am God” moment.

Know today that you are in good company. All of us, at one time or another, question God’s activity and wonder what the heck is going on. We retreat into the silence of our own thoughts, seeking out the spirit and finding him there.

In times like these, it is good to remember the miracles of Christmas. Each one had to be waited for, and each came in their own time…God’s time. So in your doubt, remember to look up, look out, and look for a sign. God is here, Emmanuel, and he came to save. You can count on it.

Look up. God is here. By Becca Ziegler

Lady-in-Waiting

From a historical perspective, a lady-in-waiting was a noblewoman of lower rank who attended a noblewoman of higher rank, such as a queen or princess. Her work centered on ensuring that the personal needs of her mistress were taken care of. More courtier or companion than servant, ladies-in-waiting provided assistance with secretarial needs, etiquette, practicing court dances, embroidery, wardrobe care, and delivering messages on behalf of their mistress in a discreet fashion. They wait in both contexts of that word: they wait on their mistress, and they sit and wait for their mistress to send for them.

I need a lady-in-waiting! Where can I get one?

Every woman I know has been a lady-in-waiting at some point in her life. Not in the context of court duties, but in the sense of having to wait for something. When we are engaged, we are waiting for the wedding to happen. When we’re pregnant, we wait for childbirth. We wait to hear if we’ve been accepted into college and grad school. We spend time sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for test results, and outside the interview room, waiting to see if we got the job. When hospice is brought in, we wait for our loved one to pass from this life to the next.

And then there is type of waiting that all people experience every day…waiting in line, waiting for phone calls, waiting at red lights, waiting for an apology, waiting for a house to sell, waiting for Christmas/vacation/birthdays/retirement to come…wait, wait, wait.

I hate waiting. How about you?

Luke 1 (The Message)

5-7During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Elizabeth waited all her life to have a child. She did all the right things, lived a righteous life, and yet was still waiting into her old age. And then the unthinkable happened. An angel visited her husband Zachariah with some startling news:

13-15 But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

And leap like a gazelle they did! Then another kind of waiting began. Meanwhile, in another part of Israel, Elizabeth’s cousin Mary was also having a conversation with an angel, who brought her some startling news as well. And then he concludes with telling her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy:

36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

Waiters, take heed. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.

The thing you are waiting for will come to be, in God’s time. And if it doesn’t, it wasn’t going to be good for you. When I was five, I prayed for a pony. Still waiting.

God always works for the good of those who love him and who are called to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) So while waiting is tedious, stressful, and downright aggravating, we can acknowledge that God is present, even in the waiting.

One thing I noticed about how Elizabeth spent her waiting time was that she and Zachariah were said to “enjoy a clear conscience before God.” That tells me that they understood the value of repentance, which ironically was what their son John would spend his lifetime preaching about. Clear consciences come when we attend to God’s commandments and live honorable lives.

As you wait, consider this. How is your conscience? Is it clear? Are you harboring any grudges, withholding any offerings from God, or practicing things that would separate yourself from him? Are you ignoring God’s call to go and make amends with someone before you return to the altar?

Repentance is the great conscience-cleanser. When we turn away from sin and return to God, the angels rejoice and our load becomes lighter.

As you wait, remember Mary and Elizabeth. They waited, and waited, and waited. Then, in the fullness of time, they birthed joy, hope, salvation, and redemption for the world. What will God bring forth from your waiting?

Our mothers told us that good things come to those who wait. May you experience patience in the waiting, hope for the future, redemption in the now, and a new understanding that NOTHING is impossible with God.

Waiting for the Snow to Melt so I Can Play Ball (2014)