Dave preached this morning from Luke 1:5-22, 57-66, on the story about the birth of John (getting us ready for Christmas, five weeks today!) Zechariah was a priest, a descendant of Levi and had been chosen by lot to offer incense at the daily sacrifices, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Zechariah’s turn of duty was more amazing than most, for the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that his heart’s desire was about to come true: he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son at long last.

So incredible was this news to Zechariah that he didn’t believe it! He had been disappointed for so long that he didn’t dare hope this could be true. He doubted the message (and by implication God who had sent the message) and as a result was struck dumb.

It was not until the birth of his son all those months later when Zechariah’s silence was ended. Having been told by Gabriel to call his son John, a fact he obviously communicated to Elizabeth, he confirms her choice in writing to the priests and immediately was able to declare praises to God.

Those months of silence were not so much God’s punishment, however, as God’s way of preparing Zechariah for the job he had to do. In those months of silence, fear was turned to faith and resistance was turned to worship. Times of silence can give way to insight and creativity. We have to heed the Psalmist’s command ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Ps 46:10) and must stop running long enough to listen. Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, does not hear God in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in a ‘gentle whisper’. Activity and productivity are not synonymous; instead, we need time and space and silence to reflect, to wait on the Lord and listen for His ‘gentle whispers’.

If we learn to do this, we find:
(1) new strength (Is 40:31)
Our weaknesses are exchanged for God’s strength and we can rise up on wings like eagle and find the energy to run again.
(2) a better perspective (2 Cor 4:18)
We press the ‘pause’ button, biting back our first reactions and learning to wait on God to find His perspective on situations. Proverbs tells us that ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath’ (Prov 15:1) and we often need the time to see things as God sees them, rather than from our limited vantage point
(3) we deepen our determination to persevere (Ps 27:14)
God whispers encouragement to us as we wait on Him and we realise afresh that the Lord is strong and mighty.

Silence is not a curse; it’s an opportunity. We need to use it to listen, to pray for others, to hear from God. Those of us who are so busy we feel we never have time for silence need to be intentional about listening and take the time to stop and listen. We need more than one ‘silent night’; we need to take time out daily to listen to the voice of God.