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Impossible Things

First Reading: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25A

There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites,
whose name was Manoah.
His wife was barren and had borne no children.
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,
“Though you are barren and have had no children,
yet you will conceive and bear a son.
Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink
and to eat nothing unclean.
As for the son you will conceive and bear,
no razor shall touch his head,
for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb.
It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel
from the power of the Philistines.”

The woman went and told her husband,
“A man of God came to me;
he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed.
I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
But he said to me,
‘You will be with child and will bear a son.
So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.
For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb,
until the day of his death.’”

The woman bore a son and named him Samson.
The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him;
the Spirit of the LORD stirred him.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 71:3-4A, 5-6AB, 16-17

R. (see 8) My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
For you are my hope, O LORD;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
I will treat of the mighty works of the LORD;
O God, I will tell of your singular justice.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!

Gospel: Luke 1:5-25

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.

Once when he was serving as priest
in his division’s turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.

After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
“So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others.”

NAB

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As I read today’s passages I’m struck by the dovetailing of these two stories. In both, an angel serves as God’s messenger to announce that Our Lord has heard the prayers of His faithful servants and gives them their hearts’ greatest desires. Yet there is one striking difference. Manoah’s wife is unafraid and accepting while Zechariah doubts the Lord and is struck mute.

I admit that if the Angel of the Lord appeared to me, I’m not sure if I wouldn’t emulate Zechariah. I can see it now. Mary be like “what the what?” and then goes mute. Yep. Zachariah and I are kindred spirits. So what’s the lesson here?

It’s two-fold. First, God hears and answers all of our prayers—if they are in alignment with His will. He knows what’s best for me and for those I hold dear. He stands outside of time and knows His plan. Both sets of parents prayed for years to have a child, and those prayers were answered in God’s way and  according to His timeline, and not their own.

Second, there is nothing to fear with God. Gabriel told Zechariah this and yet he was still overcome with fear. Zechariah does not receive his good news with the same faith as Manoah’s wife and is struck mute as a short-term discipline from God. A holy time-out, if you will. How often do we react with fear when God answers our prayers in an unexpected way? A way we don’t necessarily want? Do we still trust Him?

God asks each of us to do impossible things. I know that as a dyslexic who struggled to read, write, and comprehend the written word for so much of my life, the fact that I now write full-time is a miracle. My new career is a testament to allowing God’s plan to unfold in my life with faith and humility. God makes all things possible and answers prayers in His time when they are aligned with His will. It’s our job as believers to accept His will despite the challenges His plan poses. But when we bring those challenges to the foot of the cross, God redeems us and inspires us to greatness in His name and for His glory alone.

Are there any answers to prayers you’ve received that were different than what you wanted? How did you handle it? Did you proceed with trust and grace? Or did you struggle with accepting God’s answer?

Mary Lenaburg married her first (and only) blind date going on 27 years, is a full-time liturgist, and parents one adult son navigating his path on earth and a special needs daughter safely in Heaven. You can find out more about her here.

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