This mornng we begin our John the Baptist reflections with the incident in the Temple which left Zechariah literally speechless - a state that evidently lasted nine months. Last night I found myself pondering what life was like for this elderly couple during that period of time.
I imagined Liz (Elizabeth) waiting at home for Zec(-heriah) to get home from the Temple, wondering how his day had been and making sure that his tea was ready on the table. Did she find neighbours coming to her door with rumours of what was happening at the Temple? Did she wait anxiously for her beloved Zec, the man who could so easily have divorced her for her failings as a wife, wondering if he was ill, wondering if it was all true? Did she stand in the doorway scanning the horizon?
Was Zec, when he arrived home a little more amorous than usual, anxious to play his part in fulfilling the promise? Or was he too bewildered and too befuddled to find a way to communicate to Liz, the woman who has shared the highs and lows of their long lives? Was there a kind of 'chemistry' or 'telepathy' that led them to understand each other without need for words?
And as the days passed, was there renewed intimacy for this couple, mysteriously rejuvenated by hope? Did Liz laugh as Zec tried to explain with hand gestures what he needed to say? Was he able to continue to work at the Temple, or was he forced to endure solitude as well as silence?
How did they feel as Liz woke one day and dashed from the house, compelled to vomit? Did they dare to believe it was beginning, that new life filled her arid womb? A gentle hug befitting the years or a crazy, if a little stiff, dance? And as the weeks passed, her belly swelled and the first flicks of life confirmed their dreams, did their smiles grow wider, the glow of love shine brighter?
And fear... they were old, their bodies were worn, could Liz successfully carry this precious life to term? And Zec, unable to speak, unable to say how he felt as he watched and dreamed and dreaded...
Nine months of silence must have worn thin at times. Frustration that feelings and information could not be spoken or acknowledged. The rest from conversation, at first perhaps strange, briefly welcomed, must have been a real nuisance at times. Yet other ways of communication must have emerged... the touch, the glance, the facial expression... did they discover new ways of expressing their love, their fears, their needs?
And then the labour. Young midwives supporting this old woman who had seen so much of life. neighbours wondering how it would all come out. Hearing Liz scream did they fear this would destroy her? Watching Zec stand, silent, outside the house did they ache to see the concern in his eyes? Did they see that despite this there was joy, hope, anticipation?
A baby's shrill cry cut through the air. A smile spread across the wrinkled face of Zec as he rushed in to embrace his beloved Liz. Tired, aching, tears of joy streaming down her wizened face, and a gentle smile that said 'God's promise has been kept.'
Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of a deep chuckle... then a hearty laugh and the neighbours looked round. The silence was broken and Zec let out a cry of praise! God had remembered after all.
Taking his new son in his arms, Zec welcomed John the Joy-bringer, John the Path-clearer, John the herald of hope, with a smile and a new kind of silence... awe and wonder. And Liz, exhausted but thrilled, reached out to draw her son to her breast, assured that something new was just beginning. New waiting, new wondering... a silence to be filled