This Sunday the regular progression of Sundays after Trinity is interrupted by the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which takes precedence over the Sunday. In the Gospel we will hear again how John's father, Zechariah, who had lost the power of speech when he expressed his incredulity at the angel Gabriel's announcement that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son (for Elizabeth was "barren, and both were advanced in years"), regains his voice upon naming the child John, as Gabriel had instructed him.
So, for nine months, Zechariah was silent. It was a punishment, of course, for his unbelief. A punishment, to be sure, but also a gift - at least I would think so. Certainly it would be frustrating not to be able to make yourself understood, your wishes known. But at the same time, that enforced silence must have given opportunity to reflect on the angel's visit, on the miracle (surely a miracle, and at least the great surprise) of his unborn child's conception, the visitation of his kinswoman Mary, bearing her own miracle Child, and then to give thanks, to turn his heart in praise to God, perhaps even to compose in his mind that great hymn of praise which came pouring out of him when his tongue was finally loosed: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people; And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us, in the house of his servant David..."
Zechariah was granted (whether he wanted it or not) the gift of silence. But ordinarily for us, silence is a discipline we must undertake and develop: to let another speak and to attend to his or her words; not to respond to every internet provocation; to really think through a concern; and especially in prayer, not to fill the minutes with words but to be quiet and listen for God's still, small voice.
And of course, with Zechariah, after the silence comes praise. [Here] you may listen to a song my children and I love by Rain for Roots, a band that specializes in Bible story-songs for children (of all ages). It captures the building tension in Zechariah's heart as the day of John's birth approaches, and the wonderful release that comes when, in obedience, he names the child "John."
May God grant us, as he did Zechariah, the twin gifts of silence and song.
God bless you,