There are certain verses in the Bible that when I read them, my hair stands up and I get goose-bumps. I hope as you read the Bible that you’ll find similar verses. One verse from yesterday’s Gospel does this for me. It is Luke 1:19. The Archangel Gabriel appears to Zechariah at the side of the altar of incense as he is serving faithfully in the temple. He brings good news to Zechariah, that he and his wife Elizabeth will bear a son, despite their old age. And this son will have a special role, he will be the forerunner of Christ.
Zechariah’s response is a rather human one—he questions how this can be. He doubts. I’m not so sure that in the same scenario I wouldn’t do the same. I’m sure many of us would. He doesn’t outright reject the message of the angel. He questions the information but doesn’t say “no.”
When he asks “how shall I know this?” (Luke 1:18), the angel answers “I am Gabriel who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.” What a profound statement! There are many ways to “hear” this statement. First, there is a statement of reverence. The angel announces that he stands in the presence of God. It is not his own news to give, but God’s news through him.
Many readers get caught up in what comes next. The angel “punishes” Zechariah by telling him that he will not be able to speak until the birth of his son. And perhaps that is a correct assessment. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he questioned God’s request to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Joshua got to lead the people into the Promised Land. However, it is Moses, and not Joshua, who has the greater “legacy” if you will. It was Moses who was present at the Transfiguration. It is Moses who is most often referred to by Christ. It is the Law of Moses, not the “law of Joshua” that is the backbone of Judaism. So, Zechariah played an important role and is honored as a saint. He is seen as an obedient servant, not as a doubter. He played his role in God’s plan, even if he started out a little reluctantly.
In angel’s voice, I hear reverence. I also hear love and joy for not only the good news that is being delivered but joy that the good news is being given to Zechariah. The angel has genuine love, joy, and concern for him. He is firm but loving, reverent, and joyful, all at the same time.
We ALL have a role to play in God’s plan for salvation. We all have things that are unique to us—talents, opportunities—to live the message and to spread it. In our lives, we will take on the roles of both Zechariah and the angel. We will be entrusted with a task, and we will also have the opportunity to share the good news of God.
When we are in the role of Zechariah, it will be up to us to be not only trusting but joyful in our role. Doubt is a normal part of any life. We have doubts about all kinds of things, large and small. But Zechariah is not defined by his doubt. The Gospel ended with Zechariah writing “His name is John” (Luke 1:63) to fulfill the role given to him by God through the angel, and then, being filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesying “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” (1:68)
We all will be called upon to play the role of the angel at many points and for many people. We will be called to share the good news, to encourage, and most importantly, to witness for Christ in what we say and do. At some point, each of our names will be found in the sentence “I am _________, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” We will be called upon to give direction, comfort, and perhaps even admonishing. This statement of the Archangel Gabriel reminds us that we are to be reverent. After all, how can one say “I am ________ who stands in the presence of God” at the moment that they are acting foolishly? We are to be firm and speak with conviction. We are to recognize that there are times that God asks us, even in our sinfulness, to represent Him, as He asked Zechariah. There are times when we will each be the “good news” of encouragement and the “good news” of Christ for someone.
Zechariah was surprised, and yes, a little hesitant. But when his initial shock was over, he embraced his role. This is a reminder for us that God will surprise us at times and to embrace whatever role he asks us to play, either the role we play or the role we encourage someone else to play.
Exult, O father; and mother, now be joyous. For you gave birth today on earth unto the Prophet who by God is called Forerunner, even as was promised. The barren one now is nursing her newborn babe the Baptist; while Zacharias is overjoyed by the childbirth, and says: “My tongue has by your childbirth been loosed, O Lamp of the great Light. This indeed is a marvelous miracle. (Kathisma, Orthros of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
A Christ-centered life is what prepares us to make the statement “I am (insert your name), who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you, to bring you this good news.” So be ready today and always, for whatever role God will have you play in His plan for salvation, and whomever you will be called upon to be their “angel” of good news today!