Most years our fellowship group from church has a “white elephant” gift exchange. It is such a humorous time as we try to trick one another with the wrappings of our gifts. Some will choose to elaborately wrap their gifts, while the actual item inside is not at all what one would expect. Others will wrap a gift sloppily, but what is inside is quite valuable, comparatively speaking.
The “outside” not matching the “inside” is funny at a party, but this reality can also be reflective in matters of faith. What seems so “perfect” in perception is not necessarily indicative of the inside. And vice versa. What is seen, does not always reflect the unseen.
Case in point being the first chapter in Luke.
At first glance, Zechariah seems to be the poster boy of perfect faith. It says in Luke 1:5-6 that he was a priest, upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.
Wow! One would expect much from the faith of a man such as this. [clickToTweet tweet=”The unexpected or the unexplainable can rattle the faith of the best of us, signaling flaws we never knew were there.” quote=”Yet, the unexpected or the unexplainable can rattle the faith of the best of us, signaling flaws we never knew were there.”]
This is exactly where we find Zechariah, as he was on duty in the temple of God burning incense, when suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared before him. The angel announced that Zechariah and his barren wife Elizabeth were finally going to be parents of a son! God had heard his prayer and granted their heart’s desire…..and then some!
They were to be the parents of the long prophesied man who was to prepare the way for the coming Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5, Malachi4-5-6). As the angel Gabriel explained the magnitude of the role they were to play in God’s redemptive plan, questions flooded Zechariah’s mind. But these were not inconsequential deliberations. They revealed flaws in the faith of a man who should have known better than to utter the doubtful “how”.
This response would not seem so surprising , even shocking, except for the contrasting response of a young, teenage girl in the very same chapter, experiencing much the same scenario with the angel Gabriel . In Luke 1:28-33, he appears to Mary announcing she is to give birth to a son, Jesus, and He will be the Son of the Most High, and will given the throne of David. This is equally unlikely a normal possibility as Zechariah and his barren wife conceiving in their old age, because Mary was a virgin at the time!
But Mary responded quite differently, even though she uttered the very same word as Zechariah.
What makes such a contrasting difference between the older religious expert and the young inexperienced girl is the way each question was asked. They both asked “how”, but in completely different context. Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years?” while Mary asked, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”.
In essence, Zechariah asked in unbelief while Mary asked in faith!
He asked doubting.
She asked believing.
Oh what a difference!
Both were perplexed at the circumstances as well as the probabilities, but only one trusted beyond what seemed rational.
We know one asked diffently than the other because Zechariah was rebuked by Gabriel, silenced for his unbelief, unable to utter a word till his wife gave birth. The angel gave to one judgement, and to the other, an explanation.
What a difference of faith between the two! Zechariah should have been the one to answer faithfully, because he was the religious expert with years of study and training. Yet it was Mary, the young girl who had very little religious education, due to her age and gender, who believed God beyond what she could reason for herself.
All the expertise of Zechariah did not reflect the depth of faith to match. Only Mary had the eyes to see the greatness of her God and the heart of faith to believe. This was testified to in Luke 1:45.
Blessed is she who has believed that which the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.
In the end, Mary’s “package” may not have been quite so bedazzled as Zechariah’s, yet she was the one who gave the gift of faith to the Lord.
It is easy to allow doubt to discourage our faith. What seems impossible or unlikely is usually more believable through our human perspective than what appears too good to be true. We can know a lot about God, yet our faith can be unequally matched to the depth of that knowledge.
May we be reminded this Christmas season, as many of us pursue the “perfect” holiday for ourselves and our families, to trust God through the unexpected and unexplainable. That is what this season is really about anyway. For how unlikely, how unfathomable, that God Incarnate would be born in a lowly manger ……..to save the world!
Glory be to God in the highest and on earth, peace and goodwill to all men!