Luke 1: 18-20
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
The angel Gabriel made two visitations, and got the same response, but issued two very different outcomes.
It actually seems a bit unfair on the face of it: Zacharias is muted, and Mary gets an explanation.
Zacharias, as priest, had been serving for a long time, had no doubt read the Torah through countless times, studied at the feet of rabbis, and was deemed worthy to serve in the temple, and up to this point, had probably never experienced a visitation quite like this.
But he’d read of them, and studied them, and knew of the power of G-d performing miracles where His people were concerned.
He’d read of G-d opening the wombs of the barren, and so, we discover, prayed that his own wife’s reproach be removed.
Yet when the moment came, instead of offering his praise and thanks, he, like Abraham and so many others, doubted. Abraham and Sarah’s time had also passed beyond the realm of physical love.
But if G-d did it to His purposes for Abraham, would He do less for Zachariah and Elizabeth, using them as vessels, as Matthew’s Gospel reminds us, to fulfill all righteousness? (Matthew 3:13-17)
Gabriel had to remind Zachariah too, despite all he’d learned, studied, and experienced in the natural world, that all things are possible with G-d.
Luke 1: 30-34
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Mary, a young, betrothed, village girl, not widely known beyond her village, expresses wonder at the angel’s news.
Raised in the tradition of a patriarchal society, she is a dutiful daughter, faithful to the Law, and to G-d. But there’s something else there too: a courageous heart.
Gabriel’s announcement takes her from the obscurity of her village to the eternal stage in a matter of moments, and the Lord chooses her because she has the mettle to not back down from the hidden-behind-the-hand whispers of gossip from the village women, the embarrassment to her betrothed and her family.
Nor will she run away from the coming challenges of the arduous journey to be present for the census, then the perilous flight to Egypt.
She ponders the meaning of her role in G-d’s plan, and though she later forgets (Mark 3:21), she is still no less faithful in the moment of her Son’s execution than she was at His birth. She was there for Him in the beginning, and the end, of His earthly ministry, and grieved with a mother’s love.
As she was a virgin, unknown to a man, and untried in the ways of the world, Gabriel did indeed have to explain what G-d was about to do.
And her answer confirms the Father’s choice as the correct one:
(38) Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
No matter our age or station, there are times the Lord demands things of us where we don’t see how they’re going to happen, or even why.
There are times we pray, and are surprised when they’re answered.
There are times we’re blessed, when we haven’t asked for anything.
This holiday season, let’s remember with gratitude all the Father has done for us through the Son and the Spirit. We need not get caught up in solstices, pagan rituals, or the accuracy of the calendar, or even whether or not He’s commanded us to celebrate.
(He didn’t command us not to 😉 )
All of that is pretty rubble and utter nonsense in the light of the coming glory that awaits His faithful.
Winter is cold, beautiful, and a season of death, but it is also a herald to a season of renewed life. If the natural world reflects the kingdom, and if the words of Christ are indeed true, we too shall experience a season of renewed life.
We shall be spotless and blameless before the Almighty, the blood of His Son covering the blight of our flesh, and shining forth the purity of Jesus’ righteous spirit.
Our illnesses will be made well, our bodies transformed as His when He ascended.
The Spirit of Christmas will indeed be manifest, without all the trappings and frenzy of things that are not of G-d. Our family gathering will be never-ending. The feasting will be holy, and the fellowship happy.
And while we yet dwell, awaiting His return, let us continue to spread the Gospel to those we have in this moment, and be at peace with ourselves and each other in the doing.