Each Advent season my hope is that I will encounter the story of Jesus’ birth in a different way. Having grown up in the church it is far too easy to take the story at face value and go through the motions. This season I have been trying to go through the Pray As You Go podcasts from the Jesuits. The music, Scripture readings and reflections follow the church calendar so today’s reading was about Zechariah.
Zechariah is doing is his priestly duty and entering the temple when the angel Gabriel appears to him. Gabriel proclaims that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth will have a baby. Zechariah and Elizabeth are beyond the normal parenting ages and had given up on having a child. Zechariah is so surprised by this announcement that he probably doesn’t even hear what Gabriel says about his soon to be son.
Luke describes Zechariah’s response this way, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Zechariah asks the “how” question, but the thrust of it is that he can’t trust Gabriel’s pronouncement. In his old age, Zechariah’s relationship with God has become routine and exists mostly in duty. He probably had a fervent faith at one time but in his old age he has given up on the miraculous. His faith is cold. As a result of his unbelief, Zechariah cannot speak until the birth of his child.
Then Gabriel appears to a woman who is much younger. Mary, a young girl, has never slept with a man. Gabriel appears to her and proclaims that she will have a son, Jesus, who will reign on David’s throne.
Luke describes Mary’s response, “‘How will this be,'” Mary asked the angel, “‘since I am a virgin?'”
Like Zechariah, Mary asks the “how” question, but with a different intent. She believes Gabriel’s pronouncement, she just doesn’t understand the practicality of how she will become pregnant. She knows she is a virgin so how could she be pregnant? Her faith in God is strong and real. Mary believes what Gabriel says unlike Zechariah.
What is correlation between faith and a person’s age? Later in his gospel Luke records Jesus as saying, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” As we age, how do we keep a simple faith like that of a child? How do we guard ourselves from a “faith” that is routine and driven by duty like Zechariah’s?
Maybe it’s that over time we stop listening to God’s still, small voice to step out in faith. We get so busy that we don’t take the time to listen. We stay in our comfort zone and don’t give God the chance to show himself to us. Our once vibrant, youthful faith becomes dry and routine like Zechariah’s.
What has God been calling you to do but you haven’t taken the step of faith?
This Advent season, may we have the youthful faith of Mary.