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)
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.” (Luke 1:18-20; context)
With Gabriel’s speech done, Zechariah now has a chance to respond. And his response is so utterly human and familiar that I can be sure that I would have said the exact same thing. Basically, Zechariah says: “Oh, yeah? Prove it.”
This skepticism is so natural. But it is a skepticism born out of a tendency that I think we all have, a tendency to equate God’s trustworthiness with our own. The creation story in the book of Genesis tells us that God made us in God’s image. But when we submit to this tendency, we remake God in our own image. We know our own limitations, our own inability to keep promises or maintain healthy relationships for long, and we subconsciously decide that God must follow the same pattern. We bring God down to our level rather than allowing God to bring us up to God’s (or at least, a tiny bit closer).
I imagine that Gabriel has received this behavior before. Indeed, the angel doesn’t miss a beat: “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence.” With these words, Gabriel provides a response to Zechariah’s skepticism. Rather than show him proof, Gabriel tries to bring Zechariah to the angel’s level so that Zechariah relinquishes the tendency to remake God in his own image. Gabriel stands in God’s presence. Zechariah stands in Gabriel’s presence. Therefore, by the transitive property (or one of those basic math operations) Zechariah stands in God’s presence. And that’s all the proof he is going to get.
We, too, stand in God’s presence, whether or not we have an angel reminding us of this fact. So let’s make a pact to try to remember this the next time we grow skeptical about God’s promises. Deal?
Dear God, your trustworthiness is above and beyond anything I can conceive or imagine. Help me always to trust you, so that I can grow in faith and reliance on you. 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.