Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t promise us something: You’ll make lots of money if you invest with us. Try this diet, and watch the pounds melt away. Use this toothpaste and your teeth will brighten overnight. But how do we decide who to believe? Well the usual rule of thumb is to consider the source. Are those who make the promises trustworthy? Do they deliver what they promise?
If only Zechariah had applied this simple rule when the angel told him that his elderly wife would bear him a son. After the couple’s many years of infertility, the promise was pretty astounding. But consider the source: God himself. Who could be more reliable?
As an upright and observant Jew, and a priest besides, Zechariah prayed psalms that praised God for being “trustworthy in every word, and faithful in every work” (Psalm 145:13). Being familiar with his people’s history, he also knew that God had worked this very same miracle before: when Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age (Genesis 21:2). And being elderly, Zechariah had lived long enough to witness God’s repeated faithfulness in other people’s lives.
So why is it that this venerable priest doubted? It was the very answer he had prayed for all his married life. Had so many years of waiting blinded him to God’s power to intervene? Had he simply resigned himself to his childless fate?
Even for us poor, celibate religious, these questions are important to consider, because we too can be a lot like Zechariah. We are surrounded by signs of God’s faithfulness, and yet we can feel that God has forgotten us. Maybe we’ve made the wrong kind of peace with our unanswered prayers. Maybe we’ve neglected to consider the source of the promises and blessings we ask for.
After Zechariah was struck dumb, he had time to think things over. And this is the purpose of Advent: a time to examine whether we are settling for less than God wants to give. Can we find the humility to stretch our faith and give him room to act?