Introduction: As we approach Christmas, I would like to suggest the texts of Luke 1:5-25 and 1:26-38, for our reflection. They deal with the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Zachariah and to Mary, announcing both the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and the birth of John the Baptist. We will concentrate our attention in the reactions and consequences of answers of these two main protagonists of the Gospel, Zachariah and Mary, by way of comparing their similarities and differences in their responses to Gabriel. As we do so, what would it be your reaction if God reveals his plans contrary to yours?
1. Read: read the text of Luke 1:5-25; 26-38. slowly and listen attentively with the ‘ear of your heart’. What word, sentence or phrase stands out for you?
2. Reflect: read the text again and pay attention of what touches you; why is it meaningful for you. What thought or reflection comes to you.
3. Respond: read the text again but this time respond spontaneously to the word of God. In other words, make a dialogue with God what comes from within you. What gift does this text lead you to ask for from the Lord?
4. Stay with the Word: read the text a final time and rest in the word. Allow God to speak to you in deep silence. Do not say anything just listen to God’s words. What is He saying?
5. Take now the word, sentence, or phase, into your daily life/activity; allow it to become part of you. Always listen to it, reflect on it, pray over it and rest on it as time allows during the day. Then allow the Word leads you to action.
Conclude your ‘Lectio Divina’ with the ‘Our Father’…
Reflection: The Angel Gabriel made an unexpected visit to Zachariah and Mary; both were living ordinary lives fulfilling their own responsibilities and obligations. On the one hand, Zachariah, a high priest regarded as righteous and law-abiding man from the order of Aaron. He was doing his morning and evening duties in the temple as it was the custom. He was chosen that day by lot. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience since a priest could not perform the task again until all the others of his line had done so. So, there is no coincidence here, God was at work in that choice to make his divine intervention. On the other hand, Mary does not hold any position among the people, she was young living in a world that age and gender matters. She was busy preparing her wedding as she was betrothed to Joseph, she may have been busy designing and making her wedding dress, helping her mother baking bread, packing up her belongings and thinking about a thousand and one things. She had already made up her mind about her plans to marry Joseph and to live the rest of her life with him. In the middle of her many activities there was a space for God’s intervention through the visit of his angel.
Central Message: “Zachariah do not be afraid; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John.” …Zachariah said to the Angel ‘how can I be sure of this?’
“Mary do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.” … “Mary said to the angel ‘how can this come about since I am a virgin.”
a) “Zachariah do not be afraid; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John.” … “Zachariah said to the Angel ‘how can I be sure of this?” The visit of the angel of the Lord disturbed Zachariah and made him fearful. But the angel immediately dispelled his fear by assuring that his prayers has been heard by God. But which prayer? Maybe the prayer for the salvation of Israel made in unison with the people waiting outside or for the son he hoped to have one day. The assurance of the angel opened for him great expectations. What would it be the result of his prayer then? So, the angel announced him the unthinkable “your wife will bear you a son” and the angel explained how and why Elizabeth would conceive, what name will be given and what mission he is to carry out. Mind you, the couple was old and childless and so the message was of great news. Zachariah responded then “how can I be sure of this?” It reminds us of Abraham’s and Sarah’s responses: they both laughed because they were well on year and barren (cfr. Gen. 17:17; 18:12). One may think that Zachariah being a priest would have been familiar with similar stories whereby God provided a child to childless couples. So, what he is asking is not how this is to happen, but how is he to know it, how he can be sure of it. Practically he is asking for a sing or a proof, this means that he is questioning the integrity of the messenger. Gabriel then had no alternative but to reveal his credentials that he is the messenger of God and that his message is utterly reliable and will come true. As a consequence of his lack of faith, Gabriel makes him temporarily dumb until the birth of John the Baptist. This sign can be interpreted as what John will become, the voice that cries out in the Desert “prepare the way of the Lord!”.
b) “Mary do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.”Mary too is deeply disturbed, terrify and confused, wondering about what the greeting could mean. Gabriel reassures her by his words “do not be afraid” because God has chosen you. Then Gabriel delivers his message that she is to conceive and bear a son and that she is to name him Jesus describing his mission too. Mary then questions the angel “how can this come about since I am a virgin.” Her response is not of a doubt but a technical one, she is asking the process with which it will take place since she hasn’t got any sexual relationship with any man. She is not asking for a proof like Zachariah, but simply asking to get direction about how to proceed with her engagement. Then the angel explains the manner of the conception of the child “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most high will cover you with his shadow.” Once Gabriel explained to her how it is possible (1:35), Mary’s response of acceptance (1:38) tells us where her heart is when she says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She is willing to go ahead with the plan. Mary therefor accepted the words of the angel, Zachariah didn’t. The consequence of Mary’s reaction is that she has won God’s favour and through her yes has saved the world giving birth to Jesus our Lord and saviour. The reassuring words of the angel are also for us, we need not fear, for the Lord is always with us in every moment of our life, in every situation in which we found ourselves, in our shortcomings of our journey etc.; we need to trust in the presence of the Lord who is near to us, he is upon us. Let us ask Mary to show us he way.
Some questions for our reflexion:
1. How would you react at God’s call to carry out his plans?
2. What are you afraid of that impedes answering God’s call?
3. What did you learn from Mary’s answer to the Lord?