Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fourth Tuesday of Advent: Challenges as Signs of Favor

“Immediately his mouth was opened ... and he spoke blessing God.” – Lk 1:64

When I was 21 years old, I underwent jaw surgery to correct a severe underbite. My mouth was wired shut for 12 weeks to let my jawbone heal. I could not talk and was limited to a liquid diet. With torturous humor, my siblings paraded my favorite dishes in front of me. It was a long three-month waiting. But it helped me to be in solidarity with people who go hungry and those who are mute. When I finally spoke, I was filled with gratitude and expectancy. I was eager to eat substantial food, but more excited to share. I caught a glimpse of what Zechariah experienced.

At the announcement his son’s birth, the elder Zechariah asked for a sign. He was given a dramatic one: he became mute for 9-months. Some say he was punished for doubting. Yet, my experience of not talking for months helps me to see Zechariah’s imposed silence as effective preparation. The disguised gift of being mute allowed him to get in touch with his longing for a child and his people’s hope for the promised messiah. So when he opened his mouth, it was to bless God. He sang out an effusive canticle, beginning with: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free …” (1:68).

For nine trying months, as his son was growing in his wife’s womb, Zechariah was being prepared to join the unfolding drama of God’s saving love. Before he spoke, he wrote his name’s son on the tablet: “John” which means “Yahweh has shown favor.” Favor not only to his family, but also favor to his people, to the poor and lowly.

The jaw surgery not only improved my bite, it also bolstered my self-esteem helped improve my stammering speech. It was a disguised gift that prepared me to speak of God’s love and favor. It was God’s way of preparing me, like Zechariah, to enter the unfurling drama of Christ’s saving love. I am convinced that God has been preparing each of us to take our place in this mysterious and magnificent drama of liberating love. God’s favor is often disguised as challenges.

What if the challenges you’re facing is a preparation for an unfurling of God’s saving love? Take a few minutes of quiet, step back, and imagine this possibility of how you are favored.

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