Zechariah: Faithfulness & Paralysis

Advent Study Session 1

Holy God, you gather us here in this place to begin our journey in Advent. May we breathe in your Spirit opening us to receive your message. In the disruption that paralyzes, either experienced or witnessed, you always invite us into a deeper faithfulness. Let us learn from each other and let Christ, the light, illumine and guide us. Amen.

The story of Zechariah, the Levite Priest husband of Elizabeth who in old age bore the child who became John the Baptist, is a tale that could be summed up in the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

After long years of disappointment, Zechariah is at the beginning of this story, reconciled to a childless life, to the ending of his priestly line. In later years, he has found meaning and purpose in a life of faithfulness. His disappointment and longing have resolved into acceptance; his sorrow at what was not to be assuaged by a life of fidelity to God and the predictable comfort of his continuing service in the Temple. And then, annunciation. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” What prayer? A son? Why now? How? Though the angel Gabriel promised that Zechariah would have joy and gladness, surely what he experienced in the moment of this momentous disruption of his orderly life was not joy, but confusion … not gladness, but something more akin to panic. In reaction to this unexpected and even perhaps unwelcome news, Zechariah’s questions could be seen as reasonable, understandable, even. But in the strange ways of divine encounter, instead of answers, Zechariah received silence — not just God’s, but his own. For the length of his wife’s pregnancy, Zechariah found himself unable to speak, unable to explain, unable to ask more questions, unable to bring the meaning of his and Elizabeth’s divine encounter into the healing structure of story.

Questions

What does it mean to experience this kind of paralysis of voice and vocation? To not be able to bring meaning, or seek meaning, through the medium of words, of prayer? To even take refuge in the familiar expression of liturgy and ritual that was the daily work of a priest? What did Zechariah see, and learn, in the enforced discipline of silence?

We are people shaped by story, who need to make meaning by telling our stories, until we and those we trust know them by heart. What does it mean to be struck dumb, forced to wait for days, for months, while our life is the one disrupted yet all around us the story is being told for us and about us, without our input or consent? What will we have to say, when the time finally comes that we are freed to speak?

Consolations & Desolations

Before we continue, and after asking such hard questions, let us pause to open ourselves up to God and experience our day thus far.

Share with each other in the group the answer to these two questions: “For what moment am I most grateful today?” And, “For what moment am I least grateful today?”

Read Luke 1:5-23

What speaks to you immediately from the text about the birth of John the Baptist foretold?

Learning About Zechariah

  • Zechariah was a descendent of Aaron, as was his wife, Elizabeth.
  • The tribe of Aaron had become the priestly tribe. Divided into 24 divisions, one for each of Aaron’s 24 sons, they took turns ministering in the Temple.
  • Though Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in the hill country, housing was provided to them in Jerusalem while Zechariah presided in the Temple. To be asked to be a part of the group leading worship in the Temple was a rare honour.
  • In addition, Zechariah was selected by his group to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum, to present the sacrifice before the Ark of the Covenant; the object had led his ancestors through the wilderness, led Joshua to conquer the land and led King David into battle.

Clip 1: Kepulihan: When the Waters Recede

  • Do you remember the 2004 tsunami and how hearing the news of it impacted you?
  • As a church, did we respond?
  • Are there themes from this clip that resonate with this week’s biblical text?

Clip 2: Flint: The Poisoning of an American City

  • Did our church engage or intervene at all with the Flint water crisis?
  • Are there other ways our congregation is connected to environmental or water justice?
  • Are there themes from this clip that resonate with this week’s biblical text?

Clip 3: COVID-19 and its Impact with Lisa Horne, a counselor and director of community ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Flint, Michigan.

  • Can you name some of the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19?
  • Are there connections you can make between COVID-19 and other justice issues?
  • Are there themes from this clip that resonate with this week’s biblical text?

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you experience any commonality with Zechariah within Luke 1:5-23 or any of the protagonists in the clips?

2. How do you interact with the idea of silence in the text as discipline or virtue?

3. Are there ways, in the clips or in your personal life, that you have seen people silenced not as virtue but as a function of dominance and oppression?

4.Have you ever had an experience of being silenced?

5. How did that impact you?

6. Has disruption in your religious, personal or professional life ever led to any type of paralysis?

7. Like in the case of Flint, Michigan, or other recovery efforts, what have been some practical ways for you to maintain faithfulness when disruption or systemic injustice is ongoing?

8. While the word “disruption” often has a negative connotation, as in the case with the natural disasters, violence and environmental racism, were there invitations and expressions of any hope heard by the people interviewed in these clips?

9.In your faith journey, have you ever experienced a disruption that was ultimately for the best or was outright positive?

Next Session

In the next session, we will shift our focus from Zacharias to Elisabeth and discuss the issue of finding our identity.

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, you have surprised us with your presence in unexpected ways. In the expectations of our routine, we have missed the treasure that you place before us. We come to worship you in community often expecting nothing more than the usual. We begin our days, our weeks, assuming all will run as it always has. We do not look for the unexpected, for your active presence in our daily lives and for that we confess our sorrow. Forgive us for not allowing our eyes to catch the unexpected, to glimpse your glory in the ordinary. May this season, we see the presence of your Son by the power of your Spirit in new and transformative ways. Amen.  (Scott Bullock)


Session 1 of 4 in series “Annunciations: Disruption & Invitation”. The interactive Advent study series using award winning documentary resources was collated by Presbyterian Church (USA) and adapted for personal and group study at St Johns Papatoetoe.

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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