18 Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.’19 The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 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.’ (Luke 1:18-20)
For the first time in this gospel account, a voice is given to a human figure. Having heard the angel’s account, we can sympathise with Zechariah’s honest, even blunt, questioning and struggle to believe. More literally, Zechariah asks: “on what grounds will I know this?” (v.18) In most cases, like Zechariah, we would prefer to know something as reality rather than need to trust that it will happen. Like the disciple Thomas (John 20:25), we prefer factual, tangible, visible evidence over hearsay, particularly if it appears at odds with reality. God often allows for this: Christ provided proof to Thomas by showing him the marks from his crucifixion, and here he sends Gabriel to provide some further reassurance. Faith involves steps into the unknown but very often there are past signs and bits of evidence, which mean that we can take such steps with trust and confidence, not blindly. For those of us who believe today, the greatest evidence is Christ, the “good news” of the gospel which Gabriel evokes; this is the first time in Luke that the notion of good news appears. Gabriel brings Zechariah good news concerning his future son who will baptise Christ, the good news incarnated.
Further waiting is required, however; and Zechariah is told that he will be unable to speak until this happens (v.20). This enforced silence might seem harsh to us. While there are consequences for Zechariah’s not believing the angel’s words, he is not ultimately being punished; more important is the fulfilment of events according to God’s timing. He has a reason for silencing Zechariah, which later becomes powerfully clear (spoiler alert: Luke 1:63). Advent is a season to remember that God sometimes makes us wait. Sometimes it might even feel like we have been rendered voiceless; but God never forgets his purposes; his timing, even if sometimes last-minute and frustrating, is better than ours ever could be. Be encouraged if you feel like you are waiting.