One verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” goes like this: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
“How will this be?” That’s the question Mary asked the angel Gabriel when he announced the news that she would give birth to a baby boy. It was a legitimate question since Mary had never been with a man. She was betrothed to Joseph, a young carpenter who lived in Nazareth and whose ancestors came from Bethlehem. But they had not consummated their marriage. Mary was a virgin.
Have you ever compared the two visits by Gabriel in Luke 1? Look at the similarities between his visit to the priest, Zechariah, and to the young Jewess, Mary. In each case, he came to foretell a miraculous birth. For Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, the birth would be a miracle because, to be real honest, they were just too old to have a baby. In Mary’s case, she was not able to conceive because she was a virgin.
In the two angelic visits, Gabriel told the listeners that sons would be born. He even told them their names. He told them their sons would both be great. John, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, would be great because of the things he would do. Jesus would be great. Period. He was the Son of the Highest, the Holy One, the Son of God.
It is interesting to note the two responses to Gabriel’s message. Gabriel told Zechariah that he had just come from God’s presence, so this news came right from the top. Zechariah asked anyway, “How shall I know this?” In other words, he asked for a sign. “Prove it to me, Gabe, old buddy. I don’t believe it!” Mary responded quite differently. She asked, “How will this be?” Her heart believed what God was saying to her; she just didn’t understand it.
Do you see what is happening here? It doesn’t make sense to Zechariah that he and his wife could have a child; therefore he refuses to believe without a sign. It does not make sense to Mary that she can have a baby and still be a virgin; but she chooses to believe the Lord while seeking to understand. It was Zechariah’s unbelief that motivated his question. It was Mary’s belief that motivated hers.
How did Gabriel respond to each? Zechariah was escorted quickly offstage by Carol Merrill where he received the consolation prize of a tongue that would not work for nine months. Gabriel said to the priest, “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” Mary’s quest to understand found answers: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Zechariah’s unbelief led to the sound of silence. Mary’s belief led to a surrendered heart. God moved right in and took up residence. He still does that today, in every heart that is opened to him.
May Christ’s presence fill your heart and your home this Christmas.