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Dr Robyn Wrigley-Carr reimagines Zechariah's silence as an unexpected gift, creating space hold the wonder of what God was doing through their family.

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Dr Robyn Wrigley-Carr is a Lecturer at Alphacrucis College teaching Christian Spirituality and Theology.

Today's reading is Luke 1:5-25

I've only been on one silent retreat. It was held at a stunning retreat house in Victoria. It's amazing how not speaking makes you more attentive to those around you, to creation, to the body. And when you do speak again, you do so carefully and reverently, aware once more of the weighty giftedness of words.

At first glance, the silencing of Zechariah looks like a punishment for his unbelief - "because you did not believe my words..." (in contrast to the much-younger, faith-filled Mary!) And perhaps there is an element of rebuke here.

But I wonder if this is also a moment of grace, a crutch for Zechariah's unbelief. If he had come out of the temple not-quite-believing what had happened there, how long would it have been before he had convinced himself that he had imagined this angelic vision? Would his faith have been able to hold alive the memory of this encounter through the long weeks and months that followed?

Instead, Zechariah's silence becomes a "seal" that he cannot doubt - something real and momentous took place there in the temple. And not just for Zechariah and Elizabeth, but for the crowd outside as well.

As the child grows in Elizabeth's womb, Zechariah's pregnant silence is an ongoing reminder that God is working here, that the three of them are participants in a new work of God among a people seemingly resigned to God's silence. "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born... He will bring many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God."

So perhaps Zechariah's silence is as much grace as punishment. His is a long, silent vigil at Elizabeth's side, almost a year of watching and waiting and reflecting on Gabriel's words. And when his tongue is eventually loosed, what pours forth is praise and worship and prophecy.

Perhaps this advent we might look for the patches of grace in those parts of our lives we are more apt to consider "punishments" or burdens. Or perhaps we might benefit from practising some silence of our own - taking a half-day or a day to be silent alone, perhaps in creation, pondering again the coming of the Christ-child.

Daily Reading Luke 1:5-25

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

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Unexpected Beauty: An Advent series from Common Grace