For Zechariah, 9 months of silence ends with the cries of His newborn baby boy.
He began this silence with the words, “how can I be sure of this?” A kind of “what-you-talkin-bout-Willis” response to the Angel of God.
But he ends his silence, filled with the joy of a Father, who through no goodness of his own, received a gift, and this gift would prepare the way for Jesus, and the world would never be the same….I will never be the same.
So I figured you might as well hear my first words, as the first words of Zechariah:
Pick one….most of them follow the same story line: It’s A Wonderful Life, The Grinch, A Christmas Carol, Home Alone.
A Character is going about life, taking people for granted, wasting time, lost in some sort of selfish shame spiral. Cue crisis, or misfortune, or bad parenting, and suddenly said Character sees life differently and if given the chance, vows to never go back to the old way of life; The Character is given that chance, seeks forgiveness, renews lost relationships, and sends a random boy to buy the prized turkey, do you know the one? that hangs at the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner? (sorry)
Zechariah walked in to the temple 9 months earlier, performing His Priestly duties. Years of experience had determined what he should expect during his time in the temple. But surely God was in that place, and he was not aware of it. But nothing was routine that day, from the Angel to the words of promise.
His final words that day were one of doubt, words that begged for clarification, for verification. 9 Months later, his Wife was about to deliver their one and only child. Zechariah was determined to make sure his first words were not a continuation of his last. Things would be different now.
So what do you say when you finally have a chance to say it? This is our question as well. What has changed in our lives? What will be different? What will we choose to do with our words, either be speaking or by remaining silent. Oh that we should be trusted with such power as the power of human words; The power to rebuild or to destroy; power to bless or to curse; to bring justice and hope and love and healing and forgiveness.
So Zechariah walks out of the temple, down the steps, to greet a few anxious people now waiting for him, wondering what has taken so long.
He has encountered the messenger of God, sent to tell Him that the shame He and Elizabeth once endured, is now over. God was beginning a new work, and their Son would prepare the way. His response to that announcement is the reason he will be silent for the next nine months.
Unlike my situation, Zechariah does not have a choice, he will be silent for 9 months. Every day, His silence, though awkward, disruptive, and frustrating, will also serve as a daily reminder that God is in control, that God will keep his promise, and that our best response can only be, “Let it be to me, according to your word. “
Strange how the hardship of being unable to speak is at the same time a reminder of God’s power and faithfulness. That somehow the consequence for unbelief will daily point Zechariah to the arrival of their first Child, and to the God who has mercy and hears the prayers of the hopeless. Could it be that consequences, or hardships, or unwelcome life experiences, can be both corrective and redemptive — and that both can actually point to the Love of God?
I wonder how those months of silence, shaped the way Zechariah raised John the Baptist.
I wonder if the humility that comes with silent living, can be found in His Son, John, when he said, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie (Luke 3).
I wonder how the daily reminder that Zechariah, was not in control, was passed on to His Son, who would later say, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30)
I wonder if somewhere in the quiet that we work so hard to fill up with noise, God is preparing you and I in such a way that our lives point to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
While people who know me are still having a good time with my new “condition”, for me the novelty is wearing off. My children are starting to ask how much longer before I can talk again. My wife patiently walks through my fumbling hand motions and frustrated explanations. Today, without even thinking, I went through a drive thru, and when the voice came on asking for my order, I sat there….and then quickly drove away.
I’m finding I tend to avoid situations that require too much interaction….it’s just easier to be alone than to try to explain that you’re not talking on purpose because of some guy in the bible. I was at a supermarket today when I tried to hand a lady one of the cards I made up explaining why I wasn’t answering her, and she waved me off like I was trying to sell her something. At least look at the card! I wanted to scream, I’m not nearly as weird as I look right now!
What I’m Learning
I’m 3 days in…..Zechariah….9 months. Where was God going with this silence? Didn’t God see that not being able to talk didn’t just affect Zechariah, but everyone that Zechariah was connected to?
Silence doesn’t work….not today.
With the rise of 24 hour news, and the hundreds of millions of people offering rambling opinions on multiple social media channels every day, silence is no longer golden, it has become a sign of weakness. It is no longer, “better to be silent and thought a fool….” Now you are a fool to leave any thoughts left unsaid – because surely somebody cares and wants to hear them.
There are so many examples in my life of times when I needed to say something, to speak up and be heard. But there are just as many times in my life when the wisest, most loving, most honorable decision I could have made was to leave it unsaid, to stay quiet, and refuse to use my words to manipulate people, make much of myself, and little of the Jesus I follow.
I had the privilege of serving as Pastor of a church in Lexington, Kentucky for several years. Each Mother’s day, instead of an official sermon, I would write and perform a monologue. Reading through an old moleskine recently I found my notes and thought I would post the yearly monologue here.
[An elderly man walks on stage with a cane in hand. He is in his living room. He sets his cap on a stand, drops his cane in the holder by the door, and shuffles to the tweed couch with a crocheted afghan draped across the back. He slowly bends over, and feeling for the landing below, gently lowers his frame down on the couch.]
[he stares off into the distance as though looking back through time….and then finally, slowly begins to speak in careful, thoughtful tones.] I remember when we took our firstborn Son to church on mother’s day 35 years ago. Oh my wife and I had been trying for 20 years to be obedient to the Lord’s command to “go forth and multiply”….but it seems like God thought it might be more interesting to wait until we reached our 40’s to become parents.
Which wasn’t necessarily a bad idea….by the time you reach your 40’s some things just aren’t as big a deal as they would’ve been in your 20’s or 30’s….you’re not as interested in impressing others with your parenting skills and you start to be thankful for what really matters to a new parent in their 40’s, namely, that being a new parent in your 40’s has not killed you yet.
Our first Mother’s Day at church came when our son, Michael, was 2 years old. Now due to an unfortunate baking accident, my wife was wearing a wig at the time. We were sitting in the middle of the crowded church listening to the Minister talk about Mothers and about how “HELL IS REAL!” It seems it did not matter what the sermon was on any given Sunday, he could always bring it back to the fact that, “hell is real!”
This Mother’s day he was talking about the story of the birth of Moses. How Pharaoh had condemned all of the Hebrew males to be killed to reduce their numbers. Jochebed gave birth to Moses and hid him for three months to try to protect her boy from the world around him – a world that didn’t care a lick about him. To everyone else he was nothing but a slave child….but to Jochebed….he was her boy.
Well as the story goes, she realizes she can no longer hide Moses, but she wasn’t done protecting him either. So she made a basket, put her son inside, and took that basket to the river….and gently let it go. The basket floated slowly from the river bank, spinning as it gradually picked up speed….and then disappeared round the bend. And Moses’ Mother experienced what I reckon every Mother goes through when you’ve done all you can do to protect your child, and yet there comes a time when you simply must let them go….and trust that God is somehow in the middle of it all.
Well the preacher went on talking like this and our boy was getting restless. You see we didn’t have a nursery back then….kids were expected to be in church and listen no matter how old they were….So that they would also learn that “hell is real” I suppose. Well our boy was not going to sit still any longer. He climbed on to my wife’s lap and started pulling on her necklace, he then moved to her dangling ear rings, and tried to grab for her eyebrows.
Now if my parenting skills were keener back then I would’ve taken the boy from her, but right about the time I though of it, our son’s little hands moved up my wife’s face until he came to her hair. He yanked that wig as hard as he could and pulled the side of it clean round to the front and over her face. My wife started to flail around as though she were drowning. She tossed our son at me as she got her head together. You could hear gasps and giggles rising all around us. It was about this time when the preacher cried out from the pulpit, “and make no mistake about it my friends, hell is real!” Through grated teeth my wife whispered sharply at me, “you don’t have to tell me hell is real….I just experienced it!” “Honey, I’m sure no one noticed” I whispered back. “Why didn’t you just hand him to me if you couldn’t control him?”
Needless to say it was not the most uplifting Mother’s Day service….we left quietly….my wife put that wig away and never wore it again. But make no mistake about it, Mother’s are the protectors of the family. Seems my wife would go through any pain, put up with any discomfort, rejection, and sorrow, just as long as our son didn’t have to. Sometimes I think the title, “Mother” is given out a little too easy these days, but my wife….she earned it.
Course there came a time when we had to let Michael go, not because we wanted to mind you, but because he insisted, and an 18-year-old can wear you down….but my wife….she never stopped watching….even if it was from the sidelines. And our boy, well he went off and lost his head as far as we were concerned. Did all the things you don’t speak about in public places. I can’t tell you how many times I would pass by our bedroom and hear the muffled cries of my wife praying for the our Son, praying that he would be protected, that he would remember how much he was loved, and that he would realize he could always come home….still trying to protect him, as she watched him spin around, pick up speed, and disappear around the bend, into a world that didn’t care whether he lived or died. You see to everyone else our son was just another man lost in the world….but to us he was our boy.
She’s been gone for 10 years now….my wife….and each Mother’s day I like to gather with friends and family to honor her memory and tell the story of her life. My son picks me up so I can go with him to church and I….[The ringing of a rotary phone interrupts him and he reaches to answer]….Hello?….oh morning Michael….yes I’m ready….just waiting for you….well that sounds nice….I hope we can get a table….course we could if you would keep your preaching short this year like I told ya….I can’t help it I get as restless as a child anymore….ok….I’ll be on the porch watching for you…[Places the phone back down on the receiver]….Guess I better get out there….Happy Mother’s Day.
To Read part I click here. To Read part II click here.
Carrying Death in His Hands.
The crisp, spring air filled the room where Bathsheba slept, drawing her from that purgatory between fully dreaming and fully awake, where the lines between what is real and what is illusion are harder to find.
“Bathsheba!” Uriah’s voice echoed throughout the house. “Bathsheba?” Bathsheba leaped from bed, and turned the corner to find her husband gathering his things and carelessly shoving them into his sack. “Uriah, what is it?” Bathsheba asked rhetorically. Uriah turned and rushed toward her, clutching papers in his right hand. “I just left the palace, I was with my commander….I’m heading out….today….right now….
“What is that in your hand, Uriah?”
“My orders, for my commanders upon my return.”
“What do your orders say?” Bathsheba probed with subtle curiosity and growing fear.
“I….I don’t know….I haven’t read them….they….they are for my commander, Bathsheba.” Uriah said, his excitement dampened by his Wife’s confusing line of questioning.
“Bathsheba….I will carry these orders back with me to my men; I will fight for our King; and then I will return home to you and we will begin our family.” Bathsheba could only stare at him with pity. He placed his hands on each side of her face so as to catch the tears now on the downward slope of her check bones.
“But Uriah I….” “Not now” Uriah stopped her. “What till I return….I will be back soon.” He then turned to finish collecting his things.
A few hours later, two riders from the King’s palace arrived at the door to escort, Uriah, back to the battlefield. Bathsheba stood in the door frame of their house as, Uriah, mounted his horse and secured his sack. He removed his helmet and turned to see, Bathsheba, one more time. She smiled and raised her hand. Uriah, sat motionless, staring at her as though he were mentally sketching every detail of her frame. He raised his hand to match hers, smiled, then quickly snapped the reigns and sped away with his escort.
In his hands he still held the orders from his King. If only Uriah would’ve opened the letter and read his orders. just inside the fold were the words,
Uriah, battle, retreat, struck down, die.
Oh to carry death in your hands and be unaware of it. As Bathsheba watched her husband disappear out of sight, she became a witness to the ravages of sin; the power that it wields to permeate all of life, to wound, to break, to steal, to kill, and to destroy. By Winter, Bathsheba, would give birth to her first child, a boy. She and her husband, King David, would also carry death in their hands, pleading for the life of their firstborn, as death once again takes what it does not deserve.
Weeks have passed since she said goodbye to Uriah, and Bathsheba makes her way to the rooftop, in the cool of the evening. As she sits in the bath, she recognizes the faint glow of torches, being carried by riders on horseback. As they move closer, she can make out two men from the King’s army, weaving through town and moving closer to her house. Bathsheba, steps out of the tub, dresses, and makes it down to the door in time to greet the two men. No words are exchanged. One of the soldiers pulls a letter from his saddle, walks over to Bathsheba, and places it softly in her hands. The two men mount their horses, turn quickly and gallop away, unaware of the tiny frame of what was once a wife, now collapsed by the doorway in a pile of sorrow.
The walls of their home danced with shadows as Uriah and Bathsheba sat by candle light and rehearsed the story of their individual lives until they moved in step once again. Uriah, said very little about the fighting that had taken him away from, Bathsheba, many months ago. Occasionally she would ask a question that moved closer to the memories of combat, to which, Uriah, would respond by questioning the King’s decision to call him home, away from his men, away from his duties.
Bathsheba, could also not bring herself to mention the unseen battle she was engaged in just a few months ago; a battle that led to her surrender, led away like a captive to the sinful desires of a King whose eyes fell on Bathsheba one day as he walked the balcony of his palace instead of the fields of war. She recalls every detail of that night with a strange mix of fondness and regret. She remembers all of the moments along the way to her King’s bed when she could have stopped, whatever the cost, she could have stopped….why didn’t she stop?
As they continued to talk, Bathsheba felt the tension draining from her body. With each kiss, each touch, she was reintroduced to the man who years ago took her hand and brought her to his house. The hour was late, and so she rose, took the hand of her husband, and led him to their bed. Uriah first walked willingly behind her, then stopped suddenly, as though he recognized the moment. “Bathsheba….I….can’t” he said quietly. “Tonight, as I sit by your side, my men, my brothers, are sleeping under the stars, burying the dead and preparing for another battle.” “How….how can I live with you in this house as though I were unaware?” Bathsheba stared into her husband’s eyes with great longing….but even greater admiration. Uriah, leaned forward and kissed her on her forehead, lingering for just a moment to breathe in the fragrance that was unique to his wife. He then turned, moved toward his bag, and spread out a bed on the ground.
“I’m pregnant, Uriah” Bathsheba whispered as she watched her husband prepare for bed. “I’m pregnant with King David’s child….I’m….I’m so sorry”. She could not speak the words any louder, just as she could not foresee the series of events that an evening with the King would set in to motion, and the devastating consequences for everyone involved….
After a month away, I am back to writing. I decided to start my blog again with a retelling of a familiar (maybe too familiar) story in the bible. You can read the story in 2 Samuel 11 by clicking here.
Carrying Death in His Hands.
Uriah, stood in the doorway of his house….his bones ached from exhaustion, his mind tortured by images of battle, his senses taunted by the sights and smells, and familiarity of home. He could see her by the open window, rays of afternoon sun flirting with her black hair that hung like curtains around her neck. Just the sight of her frame brought back memories of a life outside of war, and filled Uriah’s eyes with tears as the longing of his heart found expression on his face.
“Bathsheba” He whispered through parched lips.
Bathsheba’s hands froze in the dough she was kneading. She looked up but could not wrestle her body to face him. “Bathsheba?” Uriah spoke firmly this time, leaving no doubt she could hear him. She turned toward him, eyes pooling with tears; she wiped the remnants of dinner preparation on her gown as she bounded toward him. Uriah dropped the sack in his hand and ran to hold her. The force of his hug consumed her and sent them both stumbling across the room. He pulled back from their embrace to study her face again. Bathsheba’s eyes were a mixture of colors and textures; splashes of joy and hope; streaks of shame, shades of regret.
“What’s….what’s wrong Bathsheba?” Uriah asked, confused by the mixed greeting in her expression.
Bathsheba wrestled her face into submission, forcing the corners of her mouth to rise against their will until she presented him a smile. “it’s….it’s just been so long, and….I wasn’t expecting you….I have nothing ready, nothing prepared for….” Uriah placed his hands on each side of her face, and guided her lips toward his. “I’m home….with you….everything is….perfect”.
Uriah embraced her tightly. Bathsheba knew that everything was far from perfect. The child growing inside of her, was now a constant reminder of the double life she had entered into. As she held her husband, she could see the walls of the King’s Palace behind him, invading the open window of their house, dividing the couple joined in embrace, and conquering a love she once believed was as strong as death.
She needed to tell him….he needed to know the truth….
My children’s fish, Shimmer, died the other day after spending approximately 13 days with our family….it was a rich, full life.
None of them seemed too upset by the whole thing. They were more intrigued with the manner in which we were going to dispose of him. I can still see their three little heads peering over the edge of the toilet bowl, faces reflecting in the tranquil waters, waiting for me to empty the cup that held their new friend.
I asked the three of them if there were any final words they wanted to say about their fish….they said no. I asked if any of them would like to say a prayer….again they said no. Finally, one of the three spoke up and said….”just drop him in the toilet”.
So I did….shimmer circled rapidly and then disappeared. Our three children marched out of the bathroom and picked up with the batman adventure this “funeral” had interrupted.
It’s hard for a parent to know how much to say about death to their children. One big reason is that the term “death” in their world does not (for our children) come burdened with the feelings of loss, hurt, pain, and sadness….not yet. I know some day this must be a part of their life experience, as it is for all people of all ages. But right now they seem as innocent as the garden before humanity’s awful choice gave us such words as “death”.
Ever since the “funeral” they have been asking more questions about getting older, and about death. My wife and I are trying our best to speak clearly and honestly about the subject. That is until the other night, when our six-year-old was lying in his bed and I was saying good night. He was asking me why I have “white hairs” starting to appear on my head. I told him it was because I was getting older. You could almost see the connections taking place in his brain. His voice then got quiet, and weak, and he asked me, “when are you going to die?”
“oh….not for a long, long, long, time.”
My eyes started to well with tears. It was true….well mostly….kind of…..In that moment I felt so small, having so much less control over life than I pretended to have. My answer reflected my hope and prayer, but not necessarily the reality. I realized I am prepared to face the reality of death at any moment and in every aspect of my life, except when it comes to my children.
So I kissed his forehead, and gave him a big hug. He laughed about the stubble on my face scratching his cheek. We said goodnight, and I left the room. Walking down the hall, I repeated the lyrics to an old song I had heard many times in the bible:
“Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90: 12
That’s where I’m at….this is not a fixed post with a typical opening, stating of problem, and solution to problem. This is just the confession of a young parent, who realized something about my life from watching a Beta fish disappear into our toilet.
The fallacy of the straight line (the audacity of the scribble).
Page 2 (If you missed page 1 please click here to catch up)
So throughout the stories of the bible you find the audacity of the scribble. Abraham’s life was headed in a straight line until God calls him to leave his home and bring his family to a new land. Moses had a nice career….you know….building stuff….and then he is on the run for murder and finds himself talking to some shrubs on fire. David was just a shepherd boy, and then an old guy (Samuel) pours oil on his head, and his life begins to spin — forward and then seemingly backward, and then upside down, and then the bottom drops out, only to be raised up again. There is Noah, and Jonah, and Solomon, and Hosea. There are the Israelites wandering in the wilderness (which is actually a giant scribble in the sand) and Ezekiel, and Peter, and Paul, and John the Baptist. Even the life of Jesus seems to be following safe, familiar patterns for the most part, until around 30 when he is baptized and starts to preach the Kingdom of God. Everything spins out of control until he ends up in the scribble of betrayal, hate, flying fists and spit….ending with a cross, and nails, and execution. Jesus shared in all that we are, including the scribble of life.
And then 3 days later….
You and I no longer have to fear the unknown, the unclear, or the scribble of life. Jesus, the risen Son of God walks with us in and through the scribble, using that scribble to show us a new way to live, to think, to work and love and play. Now we embrace Jesus in the middle of what looks like scribble, throwing away all hopes of a straight line.
So our plans do not work out the way we thought, but Jesus is leading us, and we would rather follow Him in the scribble than walk a straight line of disobedience. You still plan, you work hard, you hope and dream, but you offer all of that to your real master, one who may lead you away from all of those things, into a life you could not have imagined.
Finally, a few observations as I finish this letter:
1. You don’t get to see the end from the beginning, but you will see the beginning from the end. One of the downfalls of living life forward, is that you don’t get all of the details, you can’t see all that God is doing, before you take your first step. But, it is a beautiful thing to be able to stop at a point in your life, look back at the direction God has led you, and be in awe of his care and purpose.
2. You are not called to wait until all lines become straight. You must follow Jesus now, even though your life is unclear and God seems distant. God is not far away, and it is often in the feeling of distance that God is doing His best work in our lives. Martin Luther would look at the scribble of Jesus on the cross and say that where God seems most hidden, there God is revealed….the same is true in our lives.
3. Call your parents. I know, you didn’t see that one coming! Call them. I get it, your busy and you don’t always think of it and they should understand….but they don’t. I can’t imagine having one the main goals in your life as a parent (to see your kids off) is also the most painful. So put the letter down, call one of them right now, tell them you can’t talk long, you’re in a bad coverage area, but you just wanted to say hey! No reason, no money, just hey, and once they come to and pick up the phone, they will be happy.
Talk to you soon….if you ever call (just practicing)