Throughout the Bible, getting struck mute is a telltale sign that something is not right between humanity and God. Exactly what went wrong for Zechariah?
Gabriel provides Zechariah with a simple answer to his question—it is Zechariah’s disbelief that is to blame. I wonder, though, if Luke had something more in mind for us.
Gabriel’s message describes a transformed life for Zechariah and Elizabeth, one full of possibility. Zechariah’s response reflects our own tendency to dismiss radical alternatives for our lives. It is often easier to rule out some life-changing possibility than figure out how to make it happen.
Perhaps it is in part a failure of reflection more than anything that leaves Zechariah mute. Unable to speak, he has ample opportunity to reflect on Gabriel’s message and consider what his transformed life might be and mean. In fact, later in this story, he does not regain his speech when the baby is born, but only once he affirms Elizabeth’s lead to follow Gabriel’s vision and name the boy John. It takes his own embrace of a transformed life—after much time for reflection—to right his relationship with God.
One of the miracles of Christmas is that Jesus’s birth and life open new possibilities for what transformed and meaningful lives might look like for us. This Gospel challenges us to slow down and reflect carefully and creatively on what those might be.
Ken Scheve '90
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