I decided to stay in Luke for a little bit longer, even though I’m backing up, chronologically. The similarities and differences between Zechariah’s and Mary’s angel visitations fascinated me. Zechariah was startled and “gripped with fear” when he saw the angel of the Lord, similar to Mary’s response, but instead of saying that Zechariah was favored and that the Lord was with him, as he said to Mary, the angel comforts him with, “your prayer has been answered.” His barren wife will conceive and their son “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” What a thrill it must have been to receive this news! Unlike Mary, they had been praying for a child and their dream was about to become reality. Zechariah had much for which to give thanks!
When I read Zechariah’s response, I thought it was pretty reasonable. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Mary, too, had said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” But the angel isn’t happy about Zechariah’s question. Instead he says, “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 proper time.” (v. 20) Why the difference? Both asked a ‘how’ question. Both stated why the prediction (or promise) was hardly possible.
There must have been a difference in motive or attitude, something within their hearts that the angel of God could sense. Another look and a little more pondering brought me to this conclusion: Zechariah wanted proof; he wasn’t convinced and needed a guarantee. He stated the truth about himself and his wife, but was skeptical about the angel’s promise (v. 13-17). Mary’s question, on the other hand, shows acceptance, assuming that it will happen (“how will this be?). She’s just curious about how and acknowledges her humble innocence. She doesn’t ask for proof or question that it could happen, but wants to know how.
This is no scholarly exegesis or doctrinal explanation I’m giving, only my own assumption. But what I’m learning is that when God says, “Do not fear…your prayer has been answered,” perhaps it’s best to reply with a curiosity about how God will carry out His miraculous plan and not demand proof or certainty. I suppose it’s in our human nature to want a guarantee, but are we willing to be quiet, speechless, dumb, in order to have it? That’s the proof God gave Zechariah. God will do what He says He will do. I would like to respond, in belief, with a statement like Mary’s: “May it be to me as you have said.” This is one way to surrender my fear, especially if (when) God tells me, “your prayer has been heard.”