Luke 1v18-38 – Two new Mums
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
We have the stories of two cousins, both conceiving miracle babies. These stories are so familiar, we re-tell them every Christmas and yet they are timelessly beautiful.
The Bible often places stories next to one another, for us to see the link and the contrast. Zechariah and Mary both encounter angels, both are favoured by God, both are righteous in God’s eyes, both receive joyful news. But they couldn’t be more different and nor could their responses. Zechariah was a priest, which was a position of respect, he and his wife were from a priestly line, born into the priesthood. They lived in the South, near the capital city, Jerusalem and were old, with a community around them. Mary was young, betrothed to a carpenter, from a quiet Northern village, no social status. Zechariah, after years of disappointment responds to the angel, questioning how the promise will be fulfilled. He is silenced by the angel, he faces the awkwardness of coming out of the Holy of Holies unable to speak, and the frustration of being unable to tell anyone what has happened.
Mary also questions how her pregnancy will happen, but from a place of humble naivety and she receives an answer. Part of me feels making Zechariah mute is harsh, (I love to talk!) it is, if we see it as a punishment. But God doesn’t think in terms of punishment, he does this out of grace. Were Zechariah to come out of the temple with stories of an angel and a promise of a baby, he would have been mocked, maybe rejected, others would have tried to control the story and make a drama. God does this to keep what he is doing hidden.
God loves to work in obscure, hidden places. Many times in Jesus’ life he silenced those who wanted to tell the world of his fame and rush things forwards. God isn’t really into fame, the way that our celebrity culture values it. With fame comes all sorts of attempts at control from others, the crowd starts to set the agenda. We see that with Zechariah, they wanted to give John an hereditary family name. It’s when he stands against the crowd and takes the risk of obeying God, that Zechariah’s speech is restored.
God loves to work in obscure places, behind closed doors. There are seasons of our lives where he hides us and our gifts, in order to let things grow in us. Those things learned in secret now, are free to develop become both deep rooted and maturely formed, without others interfering in them. What is God doing in your life in this time of ‘lock down’? Whilst you’re quarantined away from others, how might freedom from their agendas, their critique, judgement or unsolicited advice, enable dreams and destiny to grow more alive in you? Staying connected is great, but we don’t need to share everything on social media, what beautiful thing could grow in your life in secret?
The beautiful thing which grew inside Mary, was Jesus. The Saviour of the world. In obscurity, the son of God, grew as an embryo, cell by cell, became a foetus and then a baby, all hidden in the womb of an unknown teenager. And whilst he was growing inside her womb, the prophetic seeds of his life, were growing in her heart and with those prophetic words about his life grew too.
The prophecies about Jesus were outrageous. That he would become king, restore the line of David and this time his rule would never end. For an obscure peasant girl to tell others this, she would have been mocked or tried for blasphemy. But those words were true, and they grew in the safety and trust of a protected heart that believed, ‘Nothin is impossible with God’.