A reflection and prayer for December 19, 2017, Day 17 of Advent
Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “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 1:18-20)
Exactly one week ago we read a very similar story about the same angel, Gabriel, coming to Mary with very similar news of a pregnancy that was inexplicable by human reason. In response, Mary asked a similar question to Zechariah’s, “How can this be?” And Gabriel explained accordingly.
One lesson to take from that dialogue was that faith builds on reason, so it’s okay to ask questions of God.
And yet, here is Zechariah, asking what is essentially the same question Mary asked, and Gabriel does not explain. Rather, he tells Zechariah, “Listen up, I’m an Angel sent to you directly from the Throne of God” — one imagines his ethereal presence drawn up in angelic umbrage — “and now you’re going to be quiet for 9 months.”
Two similar questions, two different answers. On a very primary level this is a fascinating lesson for all of us to not form expectations of God by comparing his action in our lives to his action in the lives of others. Rather, we should consider that in all cases, we are given the thing we most need, in light of our circumstances.
Mary was faithful, but also young, and the news Gabriel was bringing her was life-altering in a very dramatic and potentially threatening way. An unmarried women suddenly found to be with child? Her question deserved an answer that both explained and reassured, and Gabriel honored that.
Zechariah, on the other hand, was faithful but also older and more experienced; as a priest offering incense in the temple, he was presumably possessed of enough wisdom to accept that God can do all things, without bringing an earthly, human question into a heavenly visitation. And too, the news Gabriel brought him would not materially change, or threaten Zechariah’s life. His question, then, perhaps needed an answer that humbled him, and reminded him who it was he served. And Gabriel delivered it.
Who knows, perhaps Gabriel foresaw that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pregnancy would invite all sorts of conversation amid the society of priests with whom they kept company, and these scholars would — as religious scholars are wont to do — engage in argument, supposition and speculation that would be wasteful, besides the point, and ultimately distracting to Zechariah, who needed (like Mary) to ponder all of these things.
Either way, Zechariah, again like Mary, got the answer he needed. When the child was born, Zechariah obediently confirmed to the world that he would be named John, with no ifs or ands or buts about it, and then his power to speak was returned to him.
And that’s the last we hear of Zechariah, who perhaps had discovered that silence is the great conduit of God’s Word.
Lesson learned. We are free to ask what instinctive human reason asks. We just need to be ready to accept the answer we need — the answer will always, ultimately, be to our good — and to proceed from there, in faith.
Come, Lord Jesus! In this last week of Advent, help me to be less forward with the world, to withdraw and quiet down, that I might better hear what you are saying to me, and to the world, by your great coming. Make me open, that might be attentive, and attentive, that I might be further opened, and — like Zechariah — more easily be conformed to your ever-good Will. Amen.
Aleteia is bringing you reflections — Advent Light — for each day of this 2017 liturgical season. Follow the series here.