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Silence. You can get it. You can force it. You can even buy it. But still, I feel like people don’t like it that much.  Especially when it lasts 450 years…

And that is how long the people of Israel had to wait from the time of the last chapter of the book of Malachi, which, among other things, said, “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (Malachi 3:1).

There were hundreds of other prophecies like that in the Old Testament, pointing to the coming of the Messiah, and every person who ever lived in the nation of Israel waited patiently for the coming of the one who would free them once and for all from the hands of their oppressor.

Women dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. This made it especially hard for women who were unable to conceive for one reason or another. They not only had to deal with the social stigma of barrenness; they not only had to endure humiliation and accusation by others who considered them cursed by God; they also had to come to the realization that they could never be the mother of the Messiah.

And Elizabeth was such a woman. Not only was she unable to conceive, she was also advanced in age. But she and her husband, Zachariah, who was a priest, in spite of extreme odds against them, kept persevering in prayer about having a son. The answer came in a totally unexpected way.

On a day when Zachariah was chosen by lot to go inside the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people of Israel, he had an encounter with the divine. That encounter was not on his schedule. In fact, had he said he was going to meet with an angel of the Lord inside the altar people would have scoffed at him. First, because of the large number of priests in Israel at that time, a priest only got to go inside once in his life time, if that. Second, angels don’t usually make house calls.

The angel was none other than Gabriel, who according to his own account is in the habit of hanging out with God every day. He came to tell Zachariah some astounding news: a) your wife will bear you a son in your old age; b) your son will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb; c) he will be called John, which means “The Lord [Yahweh] is gracious,” and finally, d) he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the forerunner of the Messiah.

And what did Zachariah do? Hurried up the sacrifices to get home as soon as possible? I mean wouldn’t you? Seriously, how many guys do you know who can come home to their wives and say, “Honey, God wants us to go to bed now and help fulfill some cool biblical prophecy.”? None, zilch. But instead, Zachariah had to look for a sign.

A sign? Are you kidding me? What about an angel, standing right next to you, by the incense altar, as Luke, the historian is careful to pinpoint the exactly location where this heavenly being stood? Did you notice he appeared out of nowhere? What further proof do you need? I can almost catch the sarcasm in the angel’s response, “I know you are old, but that doesn’t mean you should be slow. Do you realize who is speaking with you? I am Gabriel, the same one who stands before God every day. And now just because of you’re doubting my word, you will receive the news that God broke His 450 years of silence but you will not be able to broadcast it. You will be unable to speak until I say so.”

Wow. Silence had just been broken. Breaking news of the coming Messiah had just hit the airwaves. A window into God’s most recent activities had just been open and Zachariah got lost in the details.

The lesson here is that even when God appears to be silent, He is not forgetful. God will show up in the most unexpected places. He will surprise us through the most unusual circumstances. He will work through His most fragile instruments to let us know that His plan is still in place and He is ready to act. God does this I guess simply to close all doors to the possibility that any one human being could orchestrate the string of events that led to the Birth of the Messiah. God said, in essence, “This is my show and I am running it by my playbook. Watch how I roll, you may learn something.”

This Sunday, as we start our series on “Christmas Babies – the Triumph of Joy,” we will look at the miraculous things that happened around the birth of John, the baptizer, and hopefully learn some things about how God works even when He appears to be silent. Hope to see you there!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

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