I fully intended to provide some commentary on this amazing excerpt from Karl Barth’s commentary on Luke 1:5-23, but he says it all and brings together the seemingly disparate themes I’ve been dwelling on this season: the sacred and the secular, our disconnection and longings for more, and our role as heralds and followers. All I could do was hang on and try to redact it faithfully (emphases mine).
“Above all it saddens us that we are so cut off from each other, that there are always such different worlds – you in your house and me in my house, you with your thoughts and me with mine. This is simply not the way life is meant to be, this separate life we all lead. But with one single change we could have infinitely more joy and good fortune and righteousness among us, if we could open our hearts and talk with each other.
And then we experience the fact that we are mute. Yes, we certainly talk with each other, we find words all right, but never the right words; never the words that would really do justice to what actually moves us, what actually lives in us; never the words that would really lead us out of our loneliness into community. Our talk is always such an imperfect, wooden, dead talk. Fire will not break out in it, but can only smolder in our words….
Zechariah was mute because he did not believe the angel. We all are just like Zechariah in the sanctuary. Every one of us has a hidden side of our being that is, as it were, in touch with God. We are secretly in a close connection with the eternal truth and love, even if we ourselves are not aware of it…. Yes, this inward word of God, which God speaks to us by means of his angels, contains precisely that which so moves and unsettles us. It is this word that so delights and grieves us, and which we would so gladly tell one another.
Without this word we would not suffer so deeply from the need that presses in upon us, and from the injustice that we must stand by and watch. We would not be able to resist so powerfully and become so indignant against the lies and violence that we see dominating life apart from this word. We would not have the urge to exercise love and to become loving if it were not for the fact that within us is God’s voice, placed into our heart. In this way God spoke to Zechariah of something quite grand – a coming great decision and turning of all things, of the approaching better age at hand, of the Savior meant to become a helper for the people, and of his herald, whose father he himself would become….
Believing is not something as special and difficult or even unnatural as we often suppose. Believing means that what we listen to, we listen to as God’s speech. What moves us is not just our own concern, but precisely God’s concern….
We must once and for all give up trying to be self-made individuals. Let us cease preaching by ourselves, being right by ourselves, doing good by ourselves, being sensible by ourselves, improving the world by ourselves. God wants to do everything, certainly through us and with us and never without us; but our participation in what he does must naturally originate and grow out of his power, not ours. O, how we could then speak with one another. For whatever does not grow out of God produces smoke, not fire….
So now here we stand, simultaneously deaf and mute like Zechariah…. In spite of his unbelief, he was still a herald of Advent, one who waited for God…. When everything came to pass which he could not believe and could not express, then he was suddenly able to believe and speak. For God does not stand still when we come to a standstill, but precedes us with his deeds and only waits so that we can follow. And so we will accept – even with all that we cannot say, and with all that we have not yet heard – that we are also heralds of Advent. We will finally believe, and then we will also hear.”
– Karl Barth, “Lukas 1:5-23,” from Predigten 1917 , translated by Robert J. Sherman in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Farmington, Penn.: The Plough Publishing House), 133-140.