As we slide into Christmas Eve, this wondering through Advent has me seeing and thinking things I have not considered, or thought but did not give much second thought too. This slowing down to be still and contemplate, and really enter the story has helped me to see more than meets my annual cursory reading of the Christmas Story. This past week has been about a response that pops up in the account in Luke. Doubt…
Doubt appears right off the bat with Zechariah, the priest that was selected to go offer prayers on behalf of Israel. He was one of God’s men, the ones passing on and carrying on the traditions and history of a God who loved His people, and provided over, and over. This same man encounters an angel while he is in offering prayers. Prayers that the people hoped and prayed would be answered, but by Zechariah’s response we see that he was not praying expectantly. Not only was he shocked by the angel and the message which would be understandable, he was skeptical. Here he was in God’s temple, representing the people’s prayers, and he asks for proof, how do I know?… ““How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Mary also shows confusion, and fear… there was doubts in her question too, but it is the flip side of this coin. She is told she is favored and will have God’s son. Her response was also some doubts and fear, ““How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” As I entered in and thought about these two experiences with an angel of the Lord, two people that are pivotal parts of the story, I notice the slight difference, what separates these two sides of doubt, what gets Zechariah nine months of silence, and Mary confidence to tell her fiancee and visit Elizabeth, “how can I be sure?” versus “how will this be?” Both had great points of why these events seemed unlikely, one old age and barrenness, the other virginity and not married. Both speak words that give away their hearts. Zechariah asks “how can I be sure”. How do I know this will really happen, that you, God’s angel is telling me truth. What proof is there? There is distrust in his question, which I am sure he regretted when it came out of his mouth, and then gets a good reprimand from angel Gabriel, but Mary’s words show an expectant heart, “how will this be?” She is expecting it to happen as the angel says, but is curious at how this will come about. The angel is happy to explain, and even give her encouragement and lets her in on another secret about her cousin Elizabeth.
As I ponder these two interactions with angels, and unimaginable news, I think about their responses and think about how I would respond. I am not so sure I would have Mary’s expectant trust, and I hope I would not have distrust of an angel and request proof that his words were true. I am guessing I would be somewhere in between the two, but who knows. I feel like in my life I waver on this spectrum quite frequently, even when I am confident that what I am being asked or told is from God, or God’s leading. The other thing I have been wondering about as I enter in, is God’s response. Zechariah was not zapped and did not loose out on being the father of John the Baptist because of his doubt. Gabriel did not tell Zechariah that he failed, and was now disqualified. Instead, he reminded Zechariah of where he came from and who they both served. He was given the consequence of not talking, but when I think about it and as I have been practicing being still, and wondering, I think that the silence was a gift. Zechariah did not have to relay his failure right away, he was able to be silent and ponder what he had seen, and really think about and allow God to teach and define what he was told. If he was able to talk, all the priests and villagers probably would have had an opinion on the event and the true meaning and sacredness may have gotten lost. The people may have lost out on the wonder when the birth occurred. It reminds me again of how God’s mercies are new every morning, that God remembers we are but dust, and that our thoughts are so not His. Even His own priest, who knew the word, was not expecting God to do what He promised. It took a young girl with childlike faith, expectant faith, to see God’s hand and willingly trust a scary unknown plan because she trusted God. As I wonder and enter in, I think of my own life, and again am amazed at how God is moving and bringing forth His plan and willing to include us whether we have shaky faith, or expectant childlike faith. He loves us and does not want us to miss out on the good plans He has planned for us before time. Sometimes we have to be silenced, and other time we are called away for a time, but both are not a punishment, but an invitation to receive the gifts that God is lavishly pouring forth in the fullness of time.