Behold, since you did not believe my words, which will come true at the appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened (1:20).
Gabriel’s words are penetrating and packed with meaning. His sees more deeply into Zechariah than Zechariah sees into himself. And so, he first reveals Zechariah’s disbelief to him: “…you did not believe my words…” I suspect that Zechariah is pretty numb by now, and, as it were, unable to get his head around anything that is happening. But Zechariah might still be capable of inwardly assenting to the truth that Gabriel speaks about himself. I see him nodding: yes, he is disbelieving, at the moment. But because we are so often mysteries to ourselves, it can be a relief sometimes to learn a ‘home’ truth. We feel the light that that truth brings and are grateful. I imagine this being so for the upright man, Zechariah.
Then the Archangel Gabriel adds the magisterial phrase “…which will come true at the appointed time….” To my mind, these words are further words of reassurance for Zechariah – and for us. No matter how weak or disbelieving we might be in the face of the unexpected and unfathomable divine command, we cannot interfere with what God ordains. The upright Zechariah desires the fulfilment of God’s word. Gabriel’s prophecy is God’s word, and it will come true at the appointed time, no matter what else is happening in Zechariah or in the world at large. Just wait and see, Zechariah, Gabriel seems to say. God’s word is always an effective word. What God says will happen will indeed happen.
Finally, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have no power of speech until God’s word is fulfilled. Now, I believe that the Archangel Gabriel knows exactly what kind of man he is dealing with in Zechariah, and I do not interpret the angel’s words punitively here, either. In yesterday’s post, we were meditating on our need for time and prayer when we are confronted with something from God that we cannot grasp. I therefore see the Angel’s bestowal of silence upon Zechariah as a necessary condition for absorbing what he has experienced – which is so other, so unearthly, so wonderful. This silence can be understood as an expression of God’s mercy to Zechariah. I live monastic life, after all, and monks and nuns know that silence is a privilege not a penance. Silence allows us to live in an environment that is conducive to the deepening of our relationship to God. God knows that this good and upright man needs time now, and protection from the usual trivialising tendencies of speech in order to ponder his word and absorb what has just happened to him in the temple. What’s more, I imagine Zechariah welcoming this silence in the way a thirsting man welcomes a spring.