Midweek Advent Worship
December 12, 2018
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The account of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, is one of Advent silence. Zechariah was chosen to be the priest of God serving God and His people at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was in the Temple that the silence began.
There were many priests and many divisions of priests. You may be a priest for your whole life and never have the privilege of being in the Holy Place, just on the other side of the Most Holy Place. But Zechariah had been chosen that day. Each morning and evening a priest would enter, trim the lamps, and burn incense before the curtain that separated him from the ark of the covenant – the very presence of God.
All was going as planned when God intervened. Through the smoke of incense, Zechariah saw an angel standing by the altar. Such a sight terrified him. But I wonder – what terrified him more – was it the sight of the angel or was it the message that the angel would bring him? Zechariah heard that he was going to have a son and that this child would prepare the way for the Messiah. But how could this be? He was old. His wife was old. Having children at this point of life was beyond their thinking. He demanded a sign!!
Now he had already been given a sign. It isn’t everyday that you get to see an angel with your own eyes. It isn’t everyday that you are told that your son is going to be the prophet for the Messiah. But Zechariah wanted something more. And he got it.
He was given silence. “The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 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 proper time.” (Luke 1:19-20)
And that is what happened. He was silent when he left the Holy Place. He couldn’t speak when he got home. He couldn’t speak when John was born.
The Bible is filled with examples of purposeful silence. Elijah heard God in a “low whisper”, the still small voice (I Kings 19:12). Psalm 46 tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.” (verse 10) How many times do we read about Jesus taking His disciples into a quiet place so they could have some rest? There is actually a purpose to such silence – there is a holy purpose.
Zechariah was terrified at being in the presence of God and seeing God’s angel sent to him. In Romans 3 we hear this word about silence being the acceptable reaction concerning the holiness of God, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19)
I think I remember a song from my former life that said, “Silence is Golden.” But here is the golden part in it – we are silent so we can hear. Zechariah was quiet so he could hear God’s word and promises and plan even better. When we take that time to be silent it allows us to hear the voice of God in our lives, as well. A parent will try to quiet a child who is in trouble, in distress or even in a panic, so they can tell them what is happening and how things can be. God does the same with us. Zephaniah, a little-known prophet in the Old Testament, speaks a gracious word, “He will quiet you with his love.” (3:17)
I imagine during these days before Christmas, during this Advent time, we need some Advent silence. We need some quiet to reflect on our overwhelming need for God to be in our lives. We need some Advent silence that we can reflect about matters that really matter during these days, that we don’t become stressed about everything. We need some Advent silence that we might listen to God’s voice once again for comfort and strength and hope, brought to us by Jesus.
Advent silence is another word for faith. Zechariah began his silence with doubt but he didn’t end that way. After John was born some pushy relatives and neighbors had already decided what this boy was going to be called. They said this was going to be “Junior”, or “Skip.” On the eighth day, the day that a Jewish boy is circumcised and receives his name they all decided that he was going to be named after his dad, who could no longer speak, he was going to be called, Zechariah. “But his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’” (Luke 1:60) But that didn’t sit well with them. “There is no one among your relatives that has that name.” (Luke 1:61)
At that moment Zechariah’s silence was broken. Zechariah asked for a tablet and a pen and wrote, “His name is John.” If his wife said it, it sticks. It is the name Gabriel gave him even before his wife spoke. The name means, “God is gracious.”
The silence was broken to speak about God’s goodness and promise and how this infant was going to grow and do great things for the Christ and for God’s people.
In Zechariah’s song that we call The Benedictus (taken from the first two words of his song, “Praise be…”), Advent silence becomes Advent praise. “Praise be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” (Luke 1:68-71)
His silence is ended when he speaks of this son, John: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)
Advent silence – Zechariah can tell us a little about that. During this time listen and hear what God is saying to us. But then we get speechless because we are amazed at God’s deep grace given to us at every moment of life. And when the silence is broken? The praise and confession of God’s great answer of Jesus flows from our lips.
Advent silence is a great thing. Advent praise is even better. Amen!!
(The sermon outline comes to us from Dr. Steven Mueller and his work in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 20, Part 1, Pages 40-41)