In the land of ancient Israel, after four hundred years of silence, God re-enters history in a big way. He sent an angel to visit two people, a man serving in the Holy of Holies and a teenage girl in Nazareth. Who was this man and girl, and of what importance do they have in the story of Christmas?
Zechariah lived with his wife, Elizabeth, in the hill country of Judah. And the Scriptures say that they were both righteous and blameless before the Lord. However, their one grievance was their childless state. But as the seasons passed and Elizabeth’s child-bearing years ended, it appears that Zechariah became resigned to his lot. Nevertheless, God had other plans. Zechariah was chosen to raise the last prophet who would prepare the way for the promised Messiah. What a great honor!
Therefore, why was Zechariah’s response so negative and disbelieving? He was personally visited by an angel, not many people are so honored, he was told he would have a son, something he always wanted, and he was informed that his son would be great and would go before Israel in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn their hearts back to the Lord. Why then did he reply with “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”? Why didn’t he instead rejoice and believe what the angel told him?
I believe that Zechariah was content with his place in life and not open to any changes God had in mind. As a priest, he knew the Scriptures very well, and was well versed in the things of the Lord, yet he failed the test set before him. However, God still used him, despite his imperfections. Zechariah did suffer consequences for not believing God; he was mute, unable to speak, for over nine months.
Meanwhile, the angel Gabriel also visited a young girl living in Nazareth to give her unbelievable and astonishing news. She, Mary of Nazareth, would become the mother of the Promised One! And what was her response? Did she question and disbelieve the angel’s words? Yes, Mary did question, but it wasn’t Zechariah’s “How shall I know this?”, but instead “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”. And Mary was satisfied with the angel’s answer and replied with humbleness and faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary whole life was completely altered by this unexpected visit, she would be with child while unmarried, and would thus be the scorn and disgrace of her family and friends. I highly doubt that any of that was in her dreams and plans for the future, however, Mary was willing to let go of her plans and joyfully embrace God’s.
Zechariah and Mary were two people who shared a similar experience, but had very different reactions to them. Both were visited by an angel and both were chosen to raise world changers. However, one let his human intellect and knowledge stand between him and faith and, therefore, had to suffer the consequences of learning it the hard way, while the other accepted with meekness the path set before her and willingly surrendered her life to become a vessel through which God would save the world.
So when God comes and visits your heart with a message declaring His will for your life, how will you respond?
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