The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896
While I wrote this post last Christmas, I wanted to share it again because the contrast between Mary’s question and Zachariah’s question always challenges my faith.
Have you every asked God “how”something He has said to you would ever come to pass? Two biblical characters, both of whom received angelic visitations before the birth of Christ, asked that same question. And God’s totally opposite response to both “how” questions may surprise you.
Zachariah’s story is found in Luke 1:5-25. His wife Elizabeth was barren and both had prayed many years for a child. One day when Zacharias was serving on duty at the temple, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him that God had heard his prayers and that his wife would bear a son who would be named John.
Zachariah should have been ecstatic. His prayer had been heard and was finally going to be answered after all these years. But Zachariah’s response to the angel was: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Even though Zachariah had prayed, the wait time had been long and perhaps he had begun to doubt. And maybe that doubt was even tinged with a little bitterness.
The angel’s response showed God’s displeasure with Zachariah. “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now 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 proper time.”
Jump forward six months when the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin named Mary with a similar announcement: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus . . . .” (Luke 1:26-38)
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Zachariah and Mary both asked the angel the “how” question, but one received God’s judgment, while the other received His favor. What was the difference?
Zachariah’s “how” question was asked in doubt, demanding proof. Mary’s “how” was asked in wonder and faith trusting that what God said would come to pass in spite of her lack of understanding. Her response to Gabriel’s announcement revealed her trust and submission: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
God doesn’t mind our “how” questions when we ask in faith, trusting that He will fulfill His Word spoken to us. It’s the attitude of our heart that makes the difference. This Christmas season ask God to give you a heart like Mary’s—one that will believe and trust in spite of your “how” questions.