Advent Day Seven: Questioning Angels

“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.’

“Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

“When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'” – Luke 1:18-25

Here’s an instance where I just don’t understand what’s happened.  Why is Zechariah’s question a problem?  Why is it so offensive to the angel that he makes Zechariah mute until Elizabeth’s baby is born?
As my husband said, if an angel appeared to me and told me something was going to happen, something miraculous, I’m pretty sure I’d take him seriously.  It is an angel, after all.  But characters in the Bible have been asking questions of God and his angels forever to the point of disputing the point (Moses) and outright disobedience (Jonah).
Maybe it isn’t that Zechariah questioned the angel; maybe it is the nature of the question.  Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure of this” given the circumstances of my life? Another person will question the angel Gabriel in a few verses.  She will ask, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Zechariah’s question is one of certainty.  Mary’s question is one of possibility.
An angel of the LORD appeared to Zechariah.  An ANGEL of the LORD appeared to Zechariah.  
“How can I be sure of this?”
It is a question of faith and the reliability of God when he makes promises.  Like it or not, faith is not a business of verifiable facts and tangible evidence.  God’s business is mysterious, miraculous, strange, counter-intuitive, the unlikeliest of outcomes from which springs forth joy, love, peace, mercy, and redemption.  
Given the fact that Zechariah was a man and Elizabeth a woman and married, their background in Jewish history probably should have been a clue that God is capable of miraculously moving a woman’s womb back to childbearing years – there’s Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel (and Leah), Hannah, to name a few – women and men who begged God for children, couples who went barren for decades before new life blossomed inside.  Zechariah would have known these stories – he was a faithful and committed descendant of the priestly order (in today’s terminology: he was a pastor’s kid).  Despite what Zechariah knew about God’s history of making the less likely to conceive give birth to nations, he still asks, “How can I be sure of this?” Don’t give me hope.  I want certainty.
Given the choice between hope for things unseen and certainty, I think most of us would ask, “How can I be sure of this?” But every unknown I’ve ever stepped into with faith and hope has unfolded in beautiful and surprising ways.  I didn’t know how it would work out.  I didn’t even know if it would work out.  That’s part of the adventure and the delight: stretching out a hand to reach for that which has promised to lead you through.
Advent Activity: Tuba Christmas
Today is Ashland’s Tuba Christmas concert at noon. It should be an adventure in sitting still and listening. 🙂

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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