In the gospel reading on Wednesday of this week, and again tomorrow, on Christmas Eve, we hear the story of the Annunciation to Mary: How the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and she is “troubled,” (Luke 1:29) how Gabriel reassures Mary, telling her “do not be afraid,” (1:30) that she will have a child, that her child will be great, and giving her the name she will give to the child. Mary responds with a question.
Today, we hear the end of the story of the Annunciation to Zechariah. On the surface, it’s pretty much exactly the same story as ^, step by step. But in Mary’s case the exchange ends with her saying, “Let’s do this,” (my translation) and the Angel leaving. And in Zechariah’s case it ends with Gabriel saying, “Do you KNOW who I am?” (paraphrasing here) and making Zechariah mute for nine months.
It comes down to the subtle difference in the questions that Mary and Zechariah ask, and the feelings in their hearts that prompt those questions. Mary asks, “"How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" (1:34) Zechariah asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (1:18) Mary’s question presupposes the truth of what the Angel says to her. She believes. She consents. She’s just curious to know how it’s going to go down. Zechariah, on the other hand, basically asks, “Why should I believe YOU?”
But both stories have a happy ending. Zechariah’s moment of doubt, and general grumpy old man-ness aside, he is obedient to God. He names his child John, as he was instructed by the Angel. “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.” (1:64)
Sometimes, in my own life, I’ve been like Mary, ready and willing to follow God’s will—if always curious about the details. Other times, I’ve been like Zechariah, scoffing, dragging my feet, and needing to go through the trial to come out the other side a little more humble, a little more grateful, a little more free.
In a final similarity, both Annunciation stories end with the subjects proclaiming a canticle to God. Tonight is the eighth night of our family’s traditional Christmas Novena, which will end tomorrow on Christmas Eve. Each night, as a part of our prayers, we recite the words of the Canticle of Mary, traditionally called the Magnificat. The Canticle of Zechariah is also a beautiful and poignant prayer, perfect for these last days of Advent, these last days of waiting. Join us in praying them to ask for a willingness to follow God's will in your life.
Do you have a special prayer you've been praying as a family before Advent wraps up? These Canticles are beautiful and worth adding to your list.
Kendra Tierney is a forty year old mother of nine and wife of one living in and working on a big old fixer-upper house in Los Angeles. She's a homeschooler and a regular schooler and is counting down the days until her oldest turns sixteen and can take over some of the driving! Her new book about living the liturgical year in the home is in the editing process. You can find her first book, A Little Book About Confession, here, her blog here, and her word art here.