In the the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.
Once when he was serving as priest in his division's turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and 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."
Then Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." And the angel said to him in reply, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But 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.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute.
Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.
After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, "So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”
As our family read this Gospel, and began talking about it, what became evident was that each of our children agreed on what part was the most significant. It was the part where Zechariah asked the Angel Gabriel a question and then the Angel said he will now be mute for not believing his words. They were trying to imagine first, being punished for asking a question and then what it must have been like for Zechariah to be silent for 9 months. Our 12 year old said that the part where the Angel Gabriel comes to Zechariah, reminded her of when the Angel comes to Mary, but unlike Zechariah, she believed the Angel. Mary's faith was strong. Then my daughter asked, “So does that mean that Zechariah’s faith was weak? Maybe God gave him a grown-up 'time-out' to think and pray about everything?”
Zechariah’s silence reminds me of a quote by Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta, “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”
My husband and I read the Scripture passage again and found that, to us, this scripture passage is about St. John the Baptist. The whole reason the Angel Gabriel came, was because there was a baby to be born, and his name was to be John. “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and 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.”
St. John the Baptist was destined to come into the world to prepare the way of the Lord. It is announced that he will have an important mission! We are all called by God and have a mission. We can prepare the way of the Lord in the lives of people around us today. Our birth was not announced by an Angel, but we are all called by the Lord to evangelize. We all have our unique gifts and ways we can evangelize. Some of us know how to speak, some know how to teach, some are creative and artistic, and we are all able to pray. As PAPA (Priest Always, Prayer Apostolate) we pledged to do this. We pledged to go out and make disciples of all nations, especially disciples to pray for priests.
There is a quote by Saint Mother Theresa that says “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” We all are asking God to hear our prayers just like Zechariah and Elizabeth. God does hear our prayers, but are we silent enough to hear the answer?
Merry Christmas and May God bless us all!