Angels from God announce the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus the Christ. We marvel at Mary’s great faith when she humbly consents to the angel’s commission. We contrast her attitude with Zechariah’s, a request for proof from the angel. Both say something like, “How can this be?” But he is questioning the truth of the message while she is humbly asking how it could be accomplished (how can I have a baby, since I am a virgin? I am the Lord’s maidservant, but how?)
Given that Scripture records every person who is confronted with a heavenly messenger needing to be reassured first: “Do not be afraid,” both responses are remarkable.
Here is Zecharaiah, faced with an angel straight from the presence of God, overwhelming, terrifying. Yet he finds space to question whether the message could be true, and whether it will be possible for God to accomplish His will.
For Mary, the angel’s presence is enough. His appearance to her obliterated any need for proof, any doubts about what he would have to say. He is an emissary straight from God!
For Mary, the angel’s message is daunting but at the same time, reassuring. His words are straight from the God who sees her, knows her, blesses her above every other woman. She is one who honors God and she chooses to hear what He has to say in perfect trust. Of the two, it is her response which is the more reasonable.
The world will not blaze a path for you because you are commissioned with God’s work. Think of Mary again. Wasn’t it enough, she might have complained silently, that I bore for a time the shame of unmarried pregnancy, that I bear this child, but I must be present NOW so far away to be accounted like a sheep? The census decreed by Augustus was timing’s perfect storm for Mary. She rode ninety miles on a beast of burden just before it was her time to give birth.
Many of you remember what that nine-month burden feels like: heavy, awkward, the “dropped” baby lying full weight on your bladder. Now imagine riding on a donkey for ninety miles just like that. Make no mistake—that was real misery. No doubt Mary bore the unbearable circumstances better than most of us would have.
It is enough to say this fallen world will only make it harder to do right, much less to bear the greatest burdens that the Lord asks of us.