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Holy Disruptions

This week I discovered that the story of Gabriel's visit to Zechariah and his subsequent loss of speech in Luke 1, is not in any lectionary cycle, and hardly any authors talk about it. The story of Zechariah getting his voice back when he names their boy, John, and then proclaims that John will be a prophet, a forerunner to the messiah, is in the lectionary and talked about, but not this wonderful back story to how Zechariah lost his voice in the first place.

Sometimes what isn’t talked about can be more telling than what is! Regardless, I believe there is a message here for us.

Zechariah and his wife weren’t slouches in the religious department. This passage tells us Zechariah was a priest, of good priestly stock, his wife was descended from Aaron (the brother of Moses) and both were diligent in observing the laws and commandments of the Hebrew God. Yet, they were childless which would have been an embarrassment, or a black mark against them, at the time.

In this passage we find Zechariah was in the temple, their holiest of places, where the regular people weren’t even allowed. While he was offering incense to please God, an angel appeared to him. Now, one would think that, given his devotion to Yahweh, given his heritage, and given the setting, Zechariah would have delighted in the visit of an angel, would have trusted completely without questioning. But even Zechariah couldn’t quite believe that – at an advanced age – he and his wife could conceive a child. So, he questioned the angel, “How can I be sure of this? We’re both pretty old?”

Well, I don’t know if the angel had had a bad day or what, but Gabriel wasn’t about to deal with Zechariah’s waffling, and basically said, “Let’s be clear, I’m the angel, you’re the mortal. Why would I tell you something that wasn’t possible? I don’t have to give you proof, but if you need a reason to believe me, here’s one. You will not be able to talk until your child is born.”

What strikes me about this story is that Zechariah had to be jolted into trusting this in-breaking of God into his supposedly Godly life! His routine had to be turned inside-out by a Holy Disruption before he paid attention. In fact, I think a case could be made that the story of the birth of Jesus was another Holy Disruption story. Actually, not only his birth, but his entire life, was a disruption to so many things – people’s understanding of God, the social structure, who had power and who didn’t, women’s roles, who was clean and unclean.

Why is it that we seem to need disruptions to remember the spiritual world right in front of our faces and in our hearts?

Perhaps it's because we tend to get stuck in ruts, define our lives within specific parameters, and draw our circle of friends and relationships fairly close, so we forget to stretch and grow. We forget that we can color outside of the lines, and cross into new territories, and seek new experiences which might prove to be wonderful! We don’t like to risk or adjust or change, yet that may be exactly what God is calling us to do.

Hence the disruptions that become holy when we listen for the voice of God in the midst of them.

The problem is that disruptions eventually become the norm – like Elvis and rock ‘n roll music, or the internet. What is at first unsettling or disturbing, what may have been revolutionary enough to bump us off one track and onto another, eventually just becomes commonplace and we get caught in a new track that eventually needs to be disrupted to move us forward again, or bring us back to center.

I believe this works personally and spiritually, too. This is the message we need to ponder. Are we stuck in our routines and habits, so much so that we don’t readily see the Divine moving in and around us?  Are we stuck in our paths, sure of what we know and don’t know? Is it easy for God to get our attention? Or does God need a holy 2x4 to get us to wake up?

Disruptions aren’t necessarily bad - like losing your voice - sometimes they are beautiful things that simply serve as a break in a routine and bring us back to ourselves and the Spirit.

Joyce Rupp, in her book, Out of the Ordinary, tells a story about a singing tree. It was the middle of winter and it was one of those days when you’re tired of the cold and gray and dreariness of winter. She was bundled up in layers of clothes and began her daily walk at dawn. The morning was quiet, as those cold winter mornings can be, her boots making a crunching sound as she walked past a tall spruce tree. Suddenly as she passed the tree it came alive with bird song. Deep inside the branches of the tree, bunches of sparrows began singing to greet the dawn. She said she just stood there, amazed, her heart transformed. The cares and burdens of the season lost their urgency and she walked on with a lighter heart and a renewed sense of purpose and vitality.

Watch for God in the surprises, in the disruptions, in the interruptions. Messages from angels are possible, they just don’t necessarily look like beings in white robes with wings. Stay awake!

Advent and Christmas themselves can serve as Holy Disruptions from the routines of our lives, bringing us insight, hope, light and new perspectives, if we let them. Despite the fact that we celebrate these year after year, and despite the fact that they will be different this year because of the pandemic, they still have the power to change us and to change the world.  

Love & Light!