Christmas Musings: When Zechariah and Mary asked “How?”

How Two different questions with the same word

The gospel of Luke tells the encounters of Gabriel with both Zechariah and Mary. After the angel’s encounter with priest Zechariah in the Holy of Holies, the priest is left dumb (unable to speak). After the angel’s encounter with the young virgin Mary, she is free to speak. Yet, both of them asked the same question: How?

howZechariah asks “How?”

On this significant day in the life of Zechariah, he is chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. During that hour, an angel appears to him. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel says. He explains that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have been chosen to have a child who will be the forerunner of the Messiah.

Zechariah is old, and so is his wife. Their child-bearing years are behind them. Zechariah asks what most of us would ask, “How?”

The significant thing about his question is that he asks for a “sign”. He says, “How can I know this?”  Prove it to me. Give me a sign so I can believe you. 

Because of his lack of belief – needing proof – his voice is silenced until his son John is born.

howMary asks “How?”

Mary lives in Galilee in the town of Nazareth. One of the most important days in her life occurs when the same angel visits her: unexpected, unanticipated, and unannounced. Mary is given the news that she is going to bear the Messiah.

Mary wonders also. She asks the same question Zechariah asks – except she does not ask for a sign. Mary is a virgin, that she knows. How can she have a baby if she is a virgin? She asks the question, “How will this happen since I am a virgin (and plan to stay one until I marry Joseph)?”

howThe angel explains that her conception will take place by the Holy Ghost. She does not need to do a thing except accept this plan for her life. The angel also tells Mary that Elizabeth is now pregnant. Mary knows how old Elizabeth is and that a pregnancy at that age must be a miracle. Perhaps this is the “sign” she needs, even though she has not asked for a sign – for after Gabriel leaves, Mary visits Elizabeth.

To Gabriel, Mary simply says, “I am God’s servant; be it unto me according to your word.” 

How to ask “How?”

God never frowns at our questions. We can ask Him anything we want to ask. He does, however, ask us to trust Him. Is it possible that asking God for a sign was the reason Zechariah lost his voice? Does asking for a sign indicate our lack of trust? Perhaps it is better to say – as the father of the sick child said, “I believe; help Thou my unbelief.”

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