…the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filed with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.[…]
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”Luke 1:13-15, 18-20
The angels said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”Luke 1:31-37
There is something in the juxtaposition of these two passages that usually leaves me uncomfortable. Zacharias and Mary are both visited by Gabriel. They both are given impossible news. They both respond with questions. But Zacharias is…rebuked? corrected? admonished? And Mary is comforted and encouraged.
In the past, when I have meditated on these things, I thought there was some nuance. Perhaps it is that Zacharias’s question is one of doubt while Mary’s is one of comprehension…I am sure there is more to be gleaned in studying their contrasts, but this year I have been reflecting on a new thought, what if Zacharias’s muteness was not so punitive or disciplinary as we tend to read it, what if it came as much from God’s kindness as His holiness?
I relate to Zacharias. I think we all can. It’s not hard to imagine having an unfulfilled longing and, in the course of time, becoming reconciled to the thought it will likely never be fulfilled. It’s not hard to imagine still pursuing God but having relegated that particular longing to the archival category of “things surrendered to/sacrificed for/offered before God.”
So, yeah, if suddenly you told me the thing I was finally at peace with “never-gonna-happen” was, in fact, gonna – I might question whether this was truth, or my own desires resurfacing.
I am thankful for this picture of Zacharias. We tend to focus on examples of steadfast faith (and we will probably look at some in the coming days); I am thankful for this example that in our pursuit we may still doubt. But God, in His faithfulness, isn’t afraid of our questions and can meet us in our doubt in ways that will make our faith all the deeper.
With that, here’s another song that maybe didn’t know it was for Advent: