“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spiriteven before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1.11-20
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1.26-34
Today I included two lengthy Scriptures, both in the first chapter of Luke to highlight Gabriel’s interactions with two of the Christmas characters, Mary, the mother of Jesus and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist and the cousin in law of Mary. It’s really the contrast of responses the two give to Gabriel and his response therein, that I want to explore.
Gabriel is only one of four angels mentioned in the Bible. (For more on this read this very interesting article — https://www.gotquestions.org/names-of-angels.html). He is God’s messenger and is also present in the Old Testament. Gabriel meets with both Zechariah and Mary to tell them of God’s plan for their lives. Both plans involve the birth of a son. Mary is to bear her child Jesus and to know his mission, while Zechariah is to name his son John and to understand his mission in welcoming the Messiah.
That is where the similarities stop. Both are faithful Jews, Mary is “highly favored” and Zechariah is a priest in the temple of the Lord. The Lord is with both. But their responses to the presence and news of Gabriel ends in radically different results.
Mary, whose encounter comes second, is initially afraid but listens to what Gabriel has to say. She asks just this one question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Maybe it’s in how she asks, or the innocence and honesty of her question. Gabriel answers Mary, obviously giving her the answer she needs because she then begins her “Magnificat”— “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary goes on to enjoy her pregnancy and her engagement to Joseph.
Zechariah on the other hand, whose encounter with Gabriel is first, is met by the angel while he is ministering to the Lord in the Holy of Holies, the inner most court of Herod’s Temple. Gabriel offers Zechariah a lengthy explanation of what he is going to do through his son. Zechariah also asks questions of the angel — “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years…” Yet the outcome is much different than Mary’s. Whereas the angel answered Mary and all was good, Zechariah is punished by becoming mute until John is born.
Was it in the way that he asked? Was it that Mary was a teenage girl, young and pure, whereas Zechariah was a learned scholar, a priest in the Temple of the Lord and he should know better? Why did Gabriel have such different outcomes for the pair? And to be fair, Zechariah does offer praise to God in a lengthy prayer after the birth of his son.
This study involves Mary and Zechariah but also Gabriel who is preparing for Christ’s birth by announcing the good news of this arrival to humans who are to carry out God’s plan.
What are you doing to prepare for Jesus’ arrival? If an angel greeted you today and told you of the birth of the Christ, and your role in it, how would you respond? With faith like Mary or with doubt like Zechariah?
How are you preparing for the birth of Jesus?
“O Lord God, you are good. Your mercy and grace extend into the heavens. Your name is renown among the earth. Come now, Holy Spirit, fill us with your Spirit and love. Send forth your mighty power that we might know the strength of your hand and the forgiveness in your heart. Come now, Lord Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem. We anticipate your birth. We prepare for your arrival. We welcome your entrance in this world and into our hearts. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen