Most of the time I don’t feel adequate to preach God’s word to a congregation who are mature and wise in their walk of faith. So here I am, 22 years old, in a unique position. However, as I was preparing for the sermon this week, I read the story of the angel of the Lord appearing first to Zechariah and then to Mary, in a new light. In Luke 1, the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus are foretold as a prologue to the Christmas narrative.

Firstly, Zechariah’s response to the angel:

LUKE 1:11-13 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the alter of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John… 18-20 “Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Followed by the story of Mary’s response:

LUKE 1:29-31 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus…” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God… 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Initially, I am quick to judge Zechariah, “He should have had faith!” But, looking closely, I see the faith of a man that has journeyed with God for many years. I see a faith that has been beaten and shaped by life’s woes and struggles. I see a robust faith. A man who has sat in the tension of doubting God. A man who has doubted God’s goodness because he has not borne a son. “Why did the angel punish him so harshly compared to Mary?” I don’t know. Perhaps, Zechariah needed a wake up, a tangible experience that God was real and powerful to assure him that even in his old age to hold to the promises of God.

In Mary, I see the zeal of youth. Do you remember when you were in your teens and you would passionately declare, “God I am your servant! Use me!” Although Mary still doubted the same as Zechariah, but her response was more child-like. The blind faith. The faith that has no reason not to trust God. The faith that hasn’t endured suffering yet. The faith that hasn’t had to face the woes of life. Mary’s faith is pure. Zechariah’s faith is real.

May we see ourselves in Zechariah and in Mary and may we respond to God the best we know how. God is not offended by our doubt nor our zeal. So, I pray that as we follow Christ where he leads us, our faith will change, that it will become more robust and more trusting of his promises to us.

Ashleigh Nicholls