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In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” – Luke 3:1-6 [ESV]
Four hundred years! That’s how long God was silent between the Old Testament prophet Malachi and John the Baptizer. I can’t imagine it. That is like the time between the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and today. No word from God. No new call. Silence.
How do you deal with silence? It is one of the spiritual disciplines we learned about at a recent church conference. Imagine that! Telling a bunch of preachers that silence is a good thing! David Johnson and John Busacker have written the book Gasping for Breath in which he unpacks this – among many other things. In it he tells of a scene in the Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers.
In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie…Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) asks an investigative journalist (Matthew Rhys) to take a minute and think about all the people who loved him into being. Just one minute of silence.
The entire restaurant in which they are sitting falls silent, and the movie screen becomes completely still. No background noise. No musical score. Complete silence. Halfway through, Tom Hanks slowly shifts his gaze from the journalist to the viewers in the theater. To me. That’s when I became completely aware of the uniqueness of that moment. Complete silence. In a movie theater. For an entire sixty seconds.
Mister Rogers apparently did that again on the occasion of his acceptance of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He asked the assembled group of soap opera stars and talk show hosts to pause for ten seconds of silence to remember all the people who helped them become who they are. “I’ll watch the time,” he told them. And in ten seconds time, snickers turned into quiet tears as people in the hall thought about impactful people.
I’m not sure silence in the days before Jesus yielded that same result. It was a much longer and more uncomfortable time. No king. No prophet. No word from God. But it did offer them some time to reflect on God’s promises. Perhaps they became even more aware of God’s promises, yearning even more for his presence and his word in their time. Certainly they yearned for the Savior!
Their time is almost up. Jesus has come. John is preparing the way. The Word has become flesh. Now we live in that same silence – for 2000 years. But the difference is that we have God’s word in the Bible very clearly delineated. Very accessible. Very precious.
Next time you sit down to open up your Bible, why not take a minute (or 10 or 30) of silence. Think about all the people who invested in you and made you who you are today. Think about God’s precious word and the promises and truths that shape your faith. And thank God for them all. For although God may be silent, he has spoken clearly in his word, and is always up to something – no matter how long it’s been since you listened for him.