There is a Bible story in the first chapter of Luke about Zechariah, a priest of good standing, who was performing his once-in-a-lifetime duty in the temple when he received a startling and seemingly impossible word from an angel. Zechariah was “gripped with fear” at the sight of an angel. Who wouldn’t be? The angel told Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a baby, even though they both were “well along in years.” They had no children, and the implication was they were long past the child-bearing age.
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” which seems to me to be a reasonable question asked by an old man, but because he asked it, the angel rendered Zechariah speechless - unable to talk - until the baby was born. Many scholars believe Zechariah was asking for more than a simple explanation, that he was asking for a tangible sign, like Gideon. I suppose he got his sign, but not what he expected.
Nine months after his temple encounter, eight days after the baby was born, at the official dedication ceremony when the baby would be named, Zechariah asked for a writing tablet so he could announce his son’s name. Everyone expected he would name this little boy after himself, but Zechariah surprised them all when he wrote “His name is John.” It was an unexpected name with no family background. The Bible tells us that immediately after naming the baby, Zechariah could speak again. His forced silence didn’t turn into resentment or rebellion, but Zechariah began praising God as soon as his voice returned.
My first question to Zechariah would be: Why didn’t you write out the entire story during your nine months of silence - about the angel, and why you lost your voice, and the name of the baby, and all that – so people would know what was happening? Apparently Zechariah “told” his wife the story, since she was also determined to name the baby John.
When the angel said, “You will be silent and unable to speak,” perhaps this was more than frozen vocal chords, but a complete inability to tell the story. The story could have been locked in his heart and still he was physically or emotionally unable to tell it. Or write it.
Me? I probably would’ve spent the next nine months writing about it, cranking out weekly journals, and maybe even a book, until everyone was sick of it.
However, I can also understand having a spiritual encounter so powerful I can’t tell it to my friends, only to Cyndi.
I remember a few times when I heard a word from God and it was so new, so raw, so close to the bone, I couldn’t talk about it. It might be weeks or months, or years, before I could tell the story to anyone. In one case, it took thirty years before I learned the words.
Maybe I was hesitant to speak because I didn’t really understand the message and I needed time to digest the words - after all, I’m not one to share half-formed thoughts. Maybe I felt presumptuous saying it was from God. Or maybe I wanted to see how it all worked out before repeating the story.
Maybe I hesitated or delayed because I was too overwhelmed by the experience to articulate it. Maybe the word from God included someone close to me and I felt it wasn’t my story to tell without hurting the other person.
I’m sorry about all those “maybes,” but I can think of a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t tell people something I heard from God, and it’s possible Zechariah felt them as well.
So in that context, I can imagine Zechariah hesitating to tell everyone that he had seen an actual angel in the temple. It sounds like a crazy story. And if he told people there was a baby coming, who would believe him, until Elizabeth’s bump started to show.
However, and this may be my favorite part of the story, he did find a way to tell his story to Elizabeth. We don’t know if he wrote it out or used sign language, but he told his wife. That makes me happy. I hope you have someone safe to tell your holy stories to.
Question: Have you had a spiritual encounter that you couldn’t talk about? Can you talk about it now? What was the message?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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