Dec. 19, 2020

Saturday of the 3rd Week of Advent

1st Reading JGS 13:2-7, 24-25A

Psalm PS 71:3-4A, 5-6AB, 16-17

Gospel LK 1:5-25

O Antiphon

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Luke 1:18

Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Zechariah and the promise of the angel Gabriel concerning John’s birth.

Scripture leaves out many details in its stories. This leaves us room to imagine, to meditate, and to wonder.

An initial read-through of the story of Zechariah and the angel Gabriel would lead us to believe that Zechariah’s response to Gabriel’s message – that his barren, older wife would become pregnant and give birth to a son who would not only be the front-runner of the Messiah, but would bear the name John, a name unheard of in Zechariah’s family – this response is not much different from Mary’s reaction to the news that she – a virgin – would bear the long-awaited Messiah:


Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Luke 1:18


“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”” Luke 1:34


Yet the reaction of the Angel Gabriel to each tells us that the two are not the same: one was closed to the news, filled with disbelief, while the other was open to both the news and the will of God.

To Zechariah, Gabriel responded:

“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Luke 1:19-20

There is a feeling here that Gabriel had to get stern with Zechariah and remind him to whom he was speaking.

Zechariah was not a bad man. He was not a coward nor was he despicable. He was just completely frail-ly human, beset by fears and doubts. His faith was tested and found wanting.

On the other hand, Mary’s question upon hearing Gabriel’s news – “How can this be?” – wasn’t a reflection on the state of her heart or her faith, but rather a practical question; more like, “You know I am not married and I have never been with a man, right? Will this be a problem?”.

And Gabriel responds with the news that the Holy Spirit will take care of all the details. Whereas Zechariah wanted some kind of proof in order to believe, Mary believed and rested in trust of God’s plans.

Zechariah’s ability to speak was taken away until the day John was born. This seems like a harsh punishment, but we know God does all things in love, so why this? It was just that Zechariah, who sassed the Angel Gabriel (and therefore God, to his face, so to speak) lost his ability to speak for a time. An eye for an eye, the inability to speak because of unwelcoming words.

But God is justice and mercy. The silence was perhaps, for Zechariah, exactly what he needed to not only accept the words of Gabriel, the will of God, but to fully prepare to raise a child who would be the long-awaited “return of Elijah” – the one who prepares a way for the Lord.

John the Baptist seemed a quirky adult (wearing animal skins, eating locusts and honey, choosing to live an unconventional life). Odds are he was quirky all his life. God gave Zechariah – an honest, upright, rather rigid, priest – time to learn to accept the unusual, the unexpected, so that Zechariah would be prepared to father this unusual, unexpected child.

May we have the faith of Mary to say to God daily, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”

May we have the courage of Zechariah, who accepted the correction of the Lord with humbleness, allowing his heart to change and learn and grow.

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