Zechariah and Elizabeth slip into Advent fashionably late

| Father Michael Van Sloun For The Catholic Spirit | December 16, 2010 | 0 Comments

Zechariah names his newborn son from St. John the Baptist in Savage. Photo courtesy of Father Michael VanSloun

Biblical characters that help us prepare for Christmas. Zechariah and Elizabeth are two key figures in the first chapter of Luke’s infancy narrative (Luke 1:5-2:52), and they play prominent roles in the Gospel readings for the weekday Masses immediately before Christmas. The Dec. 19 Gospel is the announcement by Gabriel to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25), Dec. 21 is Mary’s Visitation to Eliza­beth (Luke 1:39-45), Dec. 23 is the birth of the Baptist (Luke 1:57-66), and Dec. 24 is Zechariah’s canticle (Luke 1:67-79). The Visitation is also the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year C.

Two annunciations, two very different responses.
The archangel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and the birth of Jesus to Mary. Both asked, “How can this be?” but the mindset behind their questions was different. Zechariah did not believe Gab­riel’s words and objected that he was an old man and that his wife was advanced in years (Luke 1:18,20). Mary trusted, despite her confusion, and replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The stories of these two res­pon­ses are placed side-by-side to compare the depth of faith and the quality of response to a divine proc­lamation. Zechariah doubted and re­sisted. Mary trusted and agreed. God was pleased with Mary’s faith, but Zechariah was struck speechless.

Pause to examine. Luke often pre­sents pairs of characters such as Mary and Martha or the repentant criminal and the abusive criminal to get us thinking. Which character am I more like? Which one should I be like? Zechariah and Mary present us with an opportunity to examine ourselves. Do I doubt? Do I resist God and God’s plan, or am I steadfast in faith? Am I open and eager to do God’s will?

Two conceptions, two very different miracles. Elizabeth was old and barren, Mary was young and fertile. It is an incredible miracle for someone beyond their child-bearing years to conceive by natural means, but it is an even greater miracle for a virgin to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. The stories of the two conceptions are told side-by-side as a study in contrast intended to show their relative importance. Elizabeth’s conception was absolutely remarkable, but Mary’s conception was the greatest of all.

Pause to ponder. The conceptions and births of Jesus and John the Baptist were miracles. Both are mysteries and matters of faith. It is beneficial to take time and meditate on the miraculous nature of these events. Our prayer will lead us to a deeper appreciation of these awesome mysteries and move us to a more profound spiritual celebration of Christmas.

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.

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Category: Spotlight, The Lesson Plan