Lent & Advent

Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – December 3

Allison Tanner

December 2, 2021

The Song of a Silenced Priest

Allison Tanner
(Rev. Dr. Allison Tanner is Pastor for Public Witness, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA)

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:68-79 (NRSV)

These past few years have really tested my faith: living with great uncertainty, watching the inequality gap grow, bearing witness to unjust and inhumane immigration systems, observing blatant and systemic racism and sexism, hearing of the growing violence in the community, seeing the struggles of loved ones and our congregation, being forced to accept the limitations of my body and the precariousness of the health of everyone around me, and so much more.

It’s not that I doubt my faith, or all the amazing things God has done in my life; it’s that my faith has not yet endured all of these harsh realities. My faith hasn’t yet equipped me to fully make sense of all that is going on around me. And yet, it is through turning to my faith – the wisdom of Scripture and my daily spiritual practices – that I find grounding and guidance to forge ahead. It is in allowing my faith to shed light on what I am witnessing all around me that helps me grasp the deeper truths of life. The daily difficulties of life have presented an invitation to deepen my faith as I find my way, and as we find our way together. The testing of our faith in new ways presents an invitation to allow our faith to anchor us, even as life around us is shifting.

Zechariah, a seasoned priest and a righteous man living blamelessly, struggled to make sense of his life when he was told that he and his wife, in their old age, were going to bear a child. What is more, their child would play a pivotal role in the saving work of God. I don’t think that Zechariah doubted what was going to happen so much as he struggled to comprehend this news. Perhaps his faith up to that point hadn’t fully equipped him to make sense of this new reality that descended on his life either. When Zechariah questions the angel Gabriel’s prophecy, he becomes mute. This is often interpreted as punishment for his disbelief, but perhaps his silence is better understood as a gift of grace to help him process this transformative angelic message. Having been silenced, Zechariah finds a way to allow himself and his faith to be transformed so that when he speaks again, he is able to clearly articulate the illuminating work of God in the world.

78By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break uponus,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Although it feels as if my faith hasn’t fully equipped me to handle living through a global pandemic and its aftermath, it has indeed prepared me to pull back so I can listen and learn all I can. It has indeed prepared me to see ever more deeply the role of evil and good, as well as the beauty of being part of God’s divine incarnation in the world. While I long for simpler, kinder, easier days, perhaps I’m right where God is inviting me to be … “finding my way in the path of peace.”

As we continue living through trying, uncertain, painful and confusing times, may we, like Zechariah, allow our faith to be transformed in the process. And may our feet find our way in the path of peace.