The readings this week from the Advent devotional Repeat The Sounding Joy focus on two unsuspecting characters in the opening chapter of Luke’s gospel. To be honest, they are not the central characters we think of when we think of the birth of Christ. They are not present at the Nativity nor do they accompany the Holy Family along their journey. There are no traditional wood carvings of them at the manger. Still, they are both essential characters to the greater narrative story.
This week we find Zachariah and Elizabeth are within the Advent crosshairs. We look to them not to scrutinize or cast judgment upon them but to learn how they responded to life’s challenges. There is something we can all relate to in the pain and sorrow they carry. Christopher Ash talks about how Zachariah, a faithful priest, and Elizabeth, a pious wife, felt the disgrace of being barren. Up until this point in their lives, they could not have children. Now, I realize this is such a sensitive subject for so many, and our hearts goes out to the families who are longing for children of their own. But where I believe this exposes a tender nerve for many of us (if not all of us) is that as we enter into the Advent season, we enter into it with a sense of emptiness in an area that is barren in our lives.
St. Ignatius says, “The barren parts of our lives are not insignificant but significant for everything is significant because God is in all things and works through all things.”
So what can we learn from these two important characters? I think the first thing we learn is that we wait while maintaining the spiritual rhythms of the daily liturgies of life. Look at Zachariah in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel verses 8-10. Zachariah continues on with the daily practices of serving the Lord. I think it is important to note that waiting does not have to be stationary but we can be proactive in our faith and the calling on our lives.
It also means we wait in silence while being open to listening. There is something about being silent that forces us to be available to the voice of God. However, I realize this is challenging simply because when we wait in silence we will also be so eager to break the silence by being open to other thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. This is where staying grounded in scripture is imperative so that we are not misled away from God’s direction.
The other thing we learn is that we wait, knowing that part of the preparation is for God to deal with our burdens, desires, fears, and any other emotions that surface. We’ve heard this expression, “it’s not just the end destination but the journey that is just as important.” God is constantly refining us, teaching us, correcting us, guiding us. This is what a loving father does. The final lesson we can learn from this couple is that we wait in silence in preparation to further understand our value and identity. I believe so many times we become so fixed on the gift, we fail to recognize the grace and love of the giver.
Advent is a difficult time for us, and we find ourselves being pulled in so many directions. But as we are called to wait we can look to the fact that God is working and that there are important lessons for us to learn while we wait. My encouragement to you is to not see waiting as a painful time of silence but a peaceful time of growing in our faith.