White stars that stand above the eastern stable.
Look down and offer Him.
The dim adoring light of your belief.
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.
Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century? (Thomas Merton)
One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John.” (Luke 1:8-13; context)
In yesterday’s passage, Luke set up the idea that God was about to fulfill a promise. In today’s passage, Luke gives us the details of Zechariah’s encounter with an angel from the Lord. The angel is Gabriel, the same angel that visits Mary, so I’m having trouble resisting comparing the two encounters. ::resists a bit:: ::gives up:: Okay, so let’s compare them. (Note that we’ll go more in depth into Mary’s encounter next week).
First, notice Zechariah’s position. He is a priest actively serving in the house of God. The angel actually comes to him in the midst of worship. When Gabriel appears to Mary, we assume she is alone in her house. (Luke doesn’t give us those details.) Besides being an amazingly faithful, brave, and courageous woman, we know next to nothing about her. Over the course of Christian history, a picture of Mary as a teen-aged maiden still living with her parents has become the norm. And that’s probably not too far off.
When you put these two encounter stories in conversation with each other, two things jump out immediately. First, God encounters both pious religious professionals and everyone else, as well. Second, God encounters us in the midst of worship and in our everyday lives, while we are doing things too mundane to be remembered in the story. Thus, the possibility for encounter expands to include every moment of our lives.
The angel comes to Zechariah and to Mary and begins with the same salutation: “Don’t be afraid!” We can infer that the angel’s appearance wouldn’t be good for those who are a bit dodgy in the heart. But taken at a deeper level, isn’t this one of God’s most fundamental messages to each and every one of us? You have nothing to fear because you are with me. I absolutely love the fact that the very first line of dialogue in Luke’s Gospel brings this message.
Dear God, I have nothing to fear because you are with me at all times in my life. Help me be aware of your presence so that I can be with you, even as you are here with me. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, keeping awake and alert for the revelation of your love for this world.