Text: Luke 1:67-80
Four hundred years.
That’s the length of time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. More importantly, it’s the length of time Israel existed without a prophet. That’s how long God’s people waited for a word from the Lord. Four hundred years of waiting, wondering, doubting, and fearing. Four hundred years of questioning whether God would ever speak again. Was it possible He had abandoned Israel once and for all?
The centuries leading up to Jesus’ birth are sometimes referred to as the “400 Years of Silence,” and it’s a silence Israel would have felt. It’s also the context of Luke’s story. In this opening chapter, he picks up where the last prophets left off, and a chasm of quiet hangs between. The silence is palpable, which is why Zechariah’s silence prior to this passage is no coincidence at all.
An angel of the Lord foretells the birth of Zechariah’s son, John, who would prepare the way for Christ. It was good and wonderful news, but Zechariah doubted. He was old, and so was his wife, and he questioned the power of God. As a consequence of this doubting, the angel sentenced Zechariah to months of silence. Only after John’s birth would Zechariah finally regain his voice.
But Zechariah doesn’t merely start talking again. He doesn’t exhale a muted “Finally!” and then return to life as usual. Instead, Zechariah’s voice returns like a trumpet blast. He bursts into praise, and foretells a plan more marvelous and magnificent than anyone had ever imagined.
The story of Zechariah seems like only a footnote in the larger story of Jesus, but we cannot miss the significance of it. Zechariah’s life is a signpost; both his silence and his singing foreshadow the arc of God’s story. God was about to end the four hundred years of silence with a roar of hope. God was putting an end to the era of no words by sending the Word made flesh.
That is God’s calling card. He punctuates silence with singing because He always ends oppression with deliverance. After all, this wasn’t the first time the Israelites had endured centuries of silence. The span of time between Genesis and Exodus was roughly four hundred years as well. The Israelites suffered under years of slavery and oppression, but the story ended the same: God sent a deliverer (Exodus 3).
This is God’s pattern. He always shows up. He always saves. We see it in Moses, we see it in Jesus, and we even see it in the life of Zechariah. God is an always-returning God. He is always coming back, and that is never not true, no matter how thick the silence.
Knowing this pattern, we are left with only one question: What will we do in the silence?
Zechariah could have become bitter. He could have nurtured his pride, he could have rebelled against God, and he probably would have felt justified in doing so. But he didn’t. Instead, Zechariah allowed God to change his heart, transforming him into an entirely different man than he was before.
That is the beauty of Zechariah’s story. His life is the story of Christmas writ small. He sings the song of a people delivered from slavery, a people walking in darkness who have seen a great light. His song is the hope of Jesus’ birth, a hope rooted in the promise that the silence will end, the darkness will abate, and Christ is coming back.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of two boys. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today and recently completed her Ph.D, which focused on cultivating the gifts of women in the church.