They call him a righteous man, a holy man. They look to him for leadership, for answers. He is supposed to know things.
But knowing a thing is easier than believing it. You can check all the boxes and speak all the words, you can even lead a people to worship, while your own mind questions. You can stand in the holy place and pray the prayer even as you wonder when, if, how, this God will answer.
He hasn’t asked for great things. He only wants what other men have. That gleam in the eye when they speak of their sons. The joy of leading his boys to the temple to teach them the ways of God. The laughter of scooping up a giggling girl with golden hair. Those little arms around the neck. Those earnest questions. The roughhousing, the boisterous meals, the songs in the dark at bedtime. These things seem even more precious than the freedom they all long for.
And so Zecharias comes to the temple, carrying with him the echoes of little voices, the shadows of small hands and feet that would have followed him in his work. He wears the sorrow now as familiar as his priestly robes, disappointment woven through the structure of his days.
But the cynicism he hides. No one knows that even as he offers up the words of faith, he feels forgotten.
But oh, Zecharias, this story is so much bigger than you, and if only you knew how your pain will be transformed into brightest, glorious joy.
The angel comes with astonishing news, and Zecharias speaks from his fear. “How shall I know this? I am old, and my wife is old also.”
Isn’t that the way of things? When hope is held out to us, we pull back in fear. When the answer finally comes, we simply cannot believe.
So Zacharias is given a pregnancy of his own.* This is a gift, not a punishment. As his wife’s belly swells and the people marvel and whisper, God takes his words away and gives him silence. For once he doesn’t need to have the answers. God himself is the answer.
And so in the silence of this pregnancy he learns he is not forgotten. His very name, Zecharias, means “remembered of Jehovah.” In the silence he can stop trying so hard. In the silence he can just be. He can watch. He can remember. He was never forgotten. Never alone. And God is coming, because God has been there all along. It is they who have stopped looking.
God is preparing the way right now, right there in those quiet days, and when his son is placed into his arms, the first words from his new-forged faith will speak his name, the crazy truth of it: John. “Jehovah is a gracious giver.”
And he won’t be able to stop the words flowing from the wonder of this, words from God Himself who yearns toward us to tell of His love that reached down into the womb of an old woman. This miracle is only the beginning of miracles, the son whose birth is being proclaimed for miles around even as His own Son swells the womb of another.
All those days of pain lie like paving-stones pointing the way to this.
Maybe the sorrow scoops out the hard places, creates the space for Him to fill. Maybe the tears soften us to receive Him, like rain in the desert. Maybe the silence makes us remember.
He is coming.
He is here.
* From “Annunciation” by Kathleen Noris, taken from Watch for the Light, Orbis, 2011
(adapted from the archives)