Back in the spring I got some unexpected news – not bad news, just news that didn’t exactly fit with the plan I had for my life. As I struggled to come to terms with my new reality, I was reminded of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how she reacted to her unexpected news. This news of being pregnant with the child of the Holy Spirit surely was a surprise and, while an amazing blessing, must also have completely overturned all her plans for her life. I remembered reading the song of Mary in Luke and seeing it as a wonderful praise song to her God. I decided to dive in to that scripture to see if I could gain any perspective on my own changed life course.
Here is Mary’s song:
“And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.””
Luke 1:46-55 NIV
Aren’t her words amazing given the circumstances? She is so confident in God’s provision for her future even though she must have been facing gossip and slander in her hometown. Luke’s account doesn’t tell us where Joseph is in this process. We don’t know if he has already agreed to continue with the betrothal when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. In any case, I find it astounding that she proclaims that all generations from now on will call her blessed, as indeed we have!
I looked back further in the chapter to see what else had happened and found that Elizabeth and Zechariah’s story of being told unexpected news comes right before Mary’s. Zechariah and Mary could not have had more different attitudes about their news.
When the angel comes to Zechariah, we know a few things – that he is old, that he and his wife have lived a righteous life, and that they had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive. We also know that he was serving in a place of honor in the temple, and can assume from the other facts told about him, that he was a God-fearing man. When the angel appears to him, he is afraid (not unusual for angelic appearances as it seems most often the first words out of the angel’s mouth is “Do not be afraid”). But when the angel tells him the news that his wife will have a child – and not just any child, but one who “will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15), he asks a very interesting question:
“Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.””
Luke 1:18 NIV
I skipped back down to Mary’s immediate response to the angel and found immediately a major difference. Here is what Mary says:
““How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?””
Luke 1:34 NIV
Do you see it?
The older (outwardly wiser?), more experienced, in full-time ministry man actually questioned the messenger of God asking how he could be sure the angel was telling him the truth. I can almost see Gabriel thrusting out his chest, sputtering in indignation that he was a messenger from the Most High God – THAT’S how you know this is for real! On the other hand, the younger, immature in faith and life girl had questions also, but of a very different tone. She wondered how this would be not if it would be. The difference in Gabriel’s response to Zechariah and Mary is also striking. Zechariah is struck dumb for months for his unbelief. Mary is encouraged by the angel Gabriel with a few more details about her child, more good unexpected news about her cousin and a reminder of God’s promises – “For no word from God will ever fail.”
I’ve been encouraged by these passages to go ahead and let my questions be known to God. But I’ve also been cautioned to not question His ability to make good on His promises. I don’t know what brought a righteous man like Zechariah to the place where he could no longer believe. I have a feeling it had something to do with years of disappointment and longing with no reason for hope. His and Elizabeth’s story remind me the dangers of despair and also the willingness of God to renew hope when all seems lost.
As for me and my unexpected news, I still haven’t seen the whole picture. But I feel confident to move each little step in front of me, trusting that God is good and faithful to His promises.