The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.
After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” [Luke 1:21-29]
We see Zacharias, first finishing his duty, his time as a priest in his division.(I cannot imagine what this would have been like for him, unable to speak, yet unable to have relations with his wife (in order to remain ritually clean for Temple service), and having both this tremendous promise from the angel and his constant reminder of its truth through his inability to speak.) Only upon completion of his service does he return home, and John is conceived. Did Elizabeth believe him when he wrote out or pantomimed this incredible revelation?
Elizabeth then shuts herself away for the first five months of her pregnancy. I am struck by her blessing of God, in its focus on her disgrace. How deep must her bitterness have been across those barren years? Her focus is not on the glorious power of God in miracle, or on the joy of a son and heir coming into the world, but on her relief from shame and disgrace. I don’t judge or condemn this… I am simply struck with compassion at how great her suffering must have been up until then. Why, I wonder, did she not allow herself to be seen by the other women during her first two trimesters? Did she fear, I wonder, that this might be snatched away from them and she miscarry? I cannot imagine that she could bear the bitterness, shame, or disappointment of that. Did she fear even greater ridicule if she lost the baby?
It is from there, from that point of Elizabeth’s seclusion, that we see God send forth Gabriel to Mary. Scripture highlights the time, measuring it from the starting point of John’s conception. How interesting! John, as forerunner and herald of Jesus, is the first tick of the clock timing Jesus’ advent.
Then we see an amazing thing. Gabriel is dispatched by God to go find Mary in her own city, and he walks in on her! Now, most angels in the Bible are “encountered” when the person walks up on them… or God sends angels off to “go before” people, leading them somewhere. Only a few times do the angels walk up to encounter people, and even less often is that their primary mission. (E.g. The angels walk up and encounter Lot on their way into Sodom.)
Likely we have seen, read, and pondered the Luke narrative of this encounter many many times, Gentle Reader. So this year, my attention has not so much been drawn to the momentous and incredible wonders of this meeting. For some reason, and I invite you to join me here, the Lord’s spotlights have been focusing on much littler things…
In this case, I’m amazed at the “everyday-ness”… the seeming “ordinary-ness”… of the opening of this Cosmically Incredible Encounter. Gabriel goes to Mary’s city, commissioned to find her and announce this wonder, and he simply “walks in on her” and greets her with the Angelic Salutation… the “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
And her response? Makes me smile… No sign of fear or even questioning words, just simplicity and a bit of confusion… “But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.”
How would we likely respond in similar circumstances? I am struck by the “taking in stride” of it all.