Monday, December 19, 2011

Old Men and Angels

I had forgotten that Gabriel makes two appearances before the birth of Christ. I was reminded by this morning’s Gospel reading (John 1:5–25), in which the archangel appears to the old, righteous priest Zechariah, whose wife Elizabeth is barren.

The Gospel reminded me, as well, that Zechariah does not receive quite the same treatment as Mary. His disbelief seems no greater sin than her incredulity. (She says, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”) Yet Zechariah is struck dumb. As we will learn on Friday—spoiler alert!—he will remain dumb until his son is born and Zechariah writes on a tablet that the son’s name is John, confirming the judgment of Elizabeth. No one in Zechariah’s ancestral line carried the name John. 

This is a beautiful Gospel for me in this particular season of Advent. As I wrote recently, I have come to an unrecognizable moment in my working life. For 25 years in my writing and publishing work, I have always known what was coming next. There was always another project in the pipeline. Right now, there is nothing in front of me—nothing but the deep wish to be open to this moment in my life and alert for the voice of an angel.

On Saturday afternoon, I heard a priest propose that we look at our daily experience with a prayer: “Let the Miracle call me. God let me hear your voice in the circumstances of my life!”

With that prayer, I, Zechariah, an old and righteous man, face my day, knowing that even if a child is born to me, that child may not even bear my name. 

(Note: The beautiful art at the top of this post is William Blake’s vision of Gabriel addressing Zechariah in the temple.)

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