ADVENT || DAY 16 || WHEN SILENCE BEARS A PROMISE
When Silence Bears a Promise
Malachi 4:5-6 “Keep watch. I am sending Elijah the prophet to you before the arrival of the great and terrible day of the Eternal One, and he will return parents hearts to their children and children’s hearts to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land of promise with a curse of annihilation.”
Luke 1:13-14 “‘Zacharias, your prayers have been heard. Your wife is going to have a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you great joy and happiness – and many will share your joy at John’s birth.”
These are the two dividing verses between the Old Testament and New Testament, with Malachi holding the last sentence in the OT and Luke launching the beginning of the NT. Reading these two verses back to back makes this story look pretty seamless. The prophet Malachi declares the word of the Lord that Elijah will return before things get hairy. Then we see in Luke that John is on his way, and we, being the clever little twenty-first centurions that we are, know that John the Baptist is who Malachi was prophesying about. Just the turn of a few pages and we have the awaited promise!
What you may not know is that in between these two verses is a period in time referred to as “400 Years of Silence”. Before this the Israelites hadn’t gone without someone hearing and speaking God’s voice and direction since becoming a nation hundreds of years before this. They hadn’t gone without hearing God’s voice for such a lengthy duration. When the messenger comes to Zacharias in the beginning of Luke, the children of God are in a hopeless place. They’ve disobeyed, they’ve rebelled, they’ve worshiped other gods, and He’s gone silent. Not for one year, not for 20 years, not for 250 years. For 400 years. 400 years ago, William Shakespeare was still alive, the first hand-powered submarine was invented, and we were still getting the hang of the printing press! 400 years spent waiting, listening for a spark of hope, a hint of direction from Him mouth. In fact, Luke tell us that a crowd was gathered when Zacharias went into the temple. They were gathered to pray, and they were praying that God would speak and break His lengthy silence.
I’ve experienced many moments of silence in my life that meant entirely different things. I knew silence when I was 8 and my mom was so angry with me that she went quiet instead of yelling. The. Worst. I felt so much dread whenever that happened. I knew silence when my boyfriend of 13 months told me to close my eyes while we were on the deck of a dinner cruise on the Nile River. He was proposing and I knew it, and I felt so much anticipation. I knew silence in the crucial moment when my first son was born and the doctor was waiting for him to cry for the first time. It felt like an eternity, but he cried within about 5 seconds, and I felt waves of relief. I’ve known silence when I get up before anyone else in my house and I sit in my living room with coffee and a Bible and I let the quiet peace wash over me, and I feel comfort. And the earth itself has known silence. When the veil was torn as a Jew died on a cross and all fell silent.
As we look back to the end of those 400 years when God was about to break the silence, we see the most beautiful thing: His people were leaning in, waiting for Him to speak, and ready to do whatever He said to do. They were anticipating His voice, begging for His word, and He was about to answer with the Word becoming flesh.
The truth about silence, no matter how it feels, is this: it always, 100% of the time, provides the perfect backdrop to hear. When silence goes before something, you can always hear what comes next. As this year comes to an end, you might be feeling a dark, heavy, uncertain
silence. You may be in silence that’s filled with anticipation and expectation. Whatever the case may be, imagine you’re Zacharias, about to hear the words from the messengers mouth, breaking 400 years of silence. Make it a point to lean in to that stillness this year, knowing you’ll be in the perfect place to hear His still small whisper this Christmas season.