There are mornings when it seems like my attention is not really focused as it should be as I pray Morning Prayer. I may go over the psalms, and then stop myself and think, “You did not really pray well this morning.” However, toward the end is the Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79. I sense my heart rising when I read his words. It is a prayer of liberation, a prayer of freedom, a prayer of accepting truth.
But to understand his Canticle we have to back up a bit in Luke. Zechariah was a priest married to Elizabeth both of whom were elderly and without children. For years Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child. But it seemed that their prayers were going unanswered.
It was Zechariah’s turn to offer the incense in the Holy of Holies. This was a great privilege. He walks in, thinking he is by himself. Yet he sees an angel standing near the altar of incense. The angel does not identify himself. Instead he immediately begins to tell Zechariah that his prayer has been heard by the Lord and that Elizabeth will bear a son. The angel goes on to tell Zechariah that he will name him “John.” The angel goes on to say in verses 16-17; “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”
But what Zechariah does not believe what the Angel has said. He tells the Angel that he and his wife are past child-bearing years. So here is what has always intrigued me about Zechariah. He’s a priest. He is about to offer up the Sacrifice of Incense. He meets an angelic being. This angel is beginning to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy of “anointed one.” It just so happens this prophecy is in Daniel 9:20-25. The angel speaking to Daniel is none other than the same angel speaking to Zechariah. With me so far?
So here we have this priest, who some scholars have said should have had a little bell ringing in the back of his head. As in, “You know, what this angel is saying to me sounds familiar. Let me think. Oh, the Archangel Gabriel told Daniel some terrifying things. And now I remember, he told Daniel about the Anointed One – the Christ. So my son has a job to do for the Christ!”
Well, sadly, Zechariah didn’t make the connection. And I wish I could remember the bible scholar who wrote about this narrative, because it is for precisely these reasons that the Archangel Gabriel waited until the end to say, “I am Gabriel!” Maybe Gabriel indignantly rolled his eyes and thought, “Couldn’t he figure out who I was?” So for not believing Gabriel’s message, Gabriel says in verse 20; “now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
I like to call this time of Zechariah his “Pregnant Silence.” At first Zechariah did not believe. His punishment gave him time to reflect and to pray while Elizabeth was pregnant with John. In a sense, Zechariah had time to reflect on the lie he had accepted about himself. “I’m too old to have a child. It is not possible.” During his “Pregnant Silence,” I have often mused that he reexamined this lie that he had swallowed about himself and came to realize as Gabriel later tells Mary, “For with God, nothing will be impossible.” John is born and he lets everyone know what his son’s name will be, he breaks out of his “Pregnant Silence,” finally renounces the lie about things being too impossible for God. And then he speaks for the first time in months this beautiful Canticle of liberation (next page), freedom and accepting God’s truth.
So why did I choose Zechariah to write about? Because we all can fall into the trap of accepting lies about ourselves, thinking this is the way that it is, when in fact, it is not. I had an “interesting summer” which in the end I learned more about myself and my continual need to trust in God and my Community. During the summer, I had my own “Pregnant Silence.” Finally during my solitary retreat I had to renounce a lot of lies about myself which I had swallowed. I had come to believe things which were not true. For we can all say, “God, what you want is impossible to do.” We can all be bound and tied and not have interior freedom if we do not fully trust in God. When we become aware of those lies, we need to renounce them. Live in the Truth. “For freedom Christ set us free.” Galatians 5:1.