Christmas – Two Questions
“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Zechariah (Luke 1:18)
“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” – Mary (Luke 1:34)
Two visits from the angel Gabriel, two “fear nots”, two explanations, two questions, and two different human responses are the start of the Christmas story. The first chapter of Luke introduces us to Zechariah and Mary and how both got news about babies from the angel Gabriel. Zechariah’s news comes as response from prayer, but you get the idea that it did not show up when he expected it too. In fact it seems many years late according to Zechariah. Mary’s news is completely unexpected, a little troubling, but received by a willing heart.
After some struggling with these two stories, some underlining, and looking up some words I am going to try and write this blog and what may seem an unfair situation. It took me a while to understand that Father God had His timetable and His will was carried out for both Zechariah and Mary.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a child, God had heard that prayer and was answering it, but not according to human thinking. (Mary was not ready, who knows she may not have even been born when they were praying for a child.) Zechariah got the news of a lifetime, in the Holy of Holies, from an angel that startled and caused fear in the old man. His response of unbelief is reflected in his question and probably in body language but it had to be in his heart as well. So even though he was silenced for nine months Father God still used him and answered the pray. In my thinking Zechariah was treated unfairly until I studied Mary’s part of the story.
Both, Zechariah and Mary’s story are very similar. Gabriel introduces himself and both get a “fear not.” Both are told they will have a baby and are given some explanation, and then both ask their question. The difference with Mary is that she gladly accepted the news (vs. 38). The terms that help put light on this was “highly favored” (charitoo) and “favor” (charis). According to my Strong’s/Vine’s Concordance favor is a gift from the “giver’ of the favor but needs to be received with thanksgiving. I think it would have been a different story for Zechariah if he had praised and thanked God for the news before he asked his question.
The term charitoo is used only twice in the New Testament here with Mary and then again in Ephesians 1:6. In Ephesians it is in connection with “us” being adopted as sons so that we can receive “every spiritual blessing.” I find no mistake that charitoo is in the same verse as the words grace and praise. Here it is translated as “freely given.” The concordance adds an interesting note for the Ephesians verse; they note that “grace is a free gift” while “favor may be deserved or gained.”
My personal take away now is there is a big difference between answered prayer and favor. I hope that I can be like Mary and Elizabeth (vs. 25) and praise God with a thankful heart for the things that show up in my life.