During this time of year, like many people, I enjoy reading about the birth of Jesus. I was recently reading through the book of Luke. Luke 1 gives us a lot of details that lead up to Jesus’ birth, details which we do not see in the other gospels. It talks about the foretelling of two births – John the Baptist and Jesus.
First, we read about the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist. John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were old and had no children. Zechariah was a priest. Both he and Elizabeth were “righteous in the sight of God” (Luke 1:6). One day Zechariah “was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” (v 9)
This was a special day for Zechariah. Not only because of the duties he was to perform that day, but also because of something extraordinary that happened while he was in the temple. The angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah while he was inside and told him that Elizabeth would soon bear a son.
Verses 14-17 say, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 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 Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.”
What an amazing promise this must have been. Was hope bubbling up inside of Zechariah? We don’t have the answer. But as the story unfolds, it does appear that doubt had creeped in. “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’” (v. 18)
Due to Zechariah’s questioning, things take a slight turn. Gabriel tells him, “…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.” (v. 20) Yikes. How scary it must have been to not be able to speak for many months.
Later in this chapter we read about the foretelling of Jesus’ birth. The same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary. In verses 30-33 he tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
I wonder what emotions ran through Mary when she heard this news. Was she fearful or hopeful? Was she in awe or confused? In verse 34, Mary does question Gabriel by asking how this can happen since she is a young, unmarried girl.
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. …For no word from God will ever fail.” (v 35,37)
How did Mary reply to that? I am amazed by her response. In verse 38 Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary’s words are inspiring. Would any of us have been able to submit to the Lord in this situation? Do we submit to the Lord this easily in less consequential situations? How I wish I always had this attitude. In fact, this story makes me cringe at my reaction to much smaller circumstances, when something comes my way that I did not plan for.
And reading through this chapter in Luke, I am often struck by the contrast in these two different stories. Zechariah who doubted versus Mary who surrendered. Reading this shows me the importance of speaking faith with our words. It is not always easy to speak faith, but it is possible because we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. It must start in our hearts. We must fully trust in the Lord first, and then our words will better reflect our faith. May the words that come out of our mouths be pleasing to the Lord. May our words show God, ourselves, and those around us that we have strong faith in our trustworthy Father.