A devout priest, Zechariah was a descendent of Aaron. When his priestly division was on duty at the Temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen to enter the Holy Place. A religious man, schooled in the Scriptures, he was in a religious place where one would expect to encounter God.
Yet, when the angel appeared to him, standing beside the altar of incense, Zechariah was gripped in fear. Gabriel comforted Zechariah, telling him not to be afraid and providing the reason for his visit. He was delivering good news. Zechariah's elderly wife, Elizabeth, would bear them a son. Not just any son, but a son to be named John, who would be filled with the Holy Spirit and would prepare the people for the Messiah who was also coming to the world.
When Zechariah heard Gabriel's words, he questioned him. "How can this be?" as he and his wife were well along in years and therefore could not bear a child. Gabriel discerned that Zechariah didn't believe, and condemned him to silence until at the baby's birth Zechariah demonstrated obedience by naming him John.
-One is the place of highest esteem, the Temple
-One in the lowest of villages
Two expressing the same question, "How can this be?"
-One an unbelieving, though devout, old man
-One a believing, devout young woman
Two different responses by the angel to that same question
-One was rendered speechless for at least 9 months
-One was provided an answer to her question
So what can we glean from this?
Just because we are in a religious place doesn't make us holy. Like the saying goes, "Just because you are in McDonalds doesn't make you a chesseburger." Despite Zechariah's expectation of meeting with God in the Holy Place, he was shocked and terrified at seeing the angel. Mary, however, fully experienced the presence of God in the humblest of locations. Unlike real estate, when it comes to experiencing God, physical location seems to be of little consequence.
What is of great consequence is the state of our heart. We can live a life as "devout and blameless" as Zechariah and still miss God. While we are encouraged to "study to show ourselves approved," it must not be just head-knowledge. The simple faith of a young virgin must inspire our desire to know Him, and to be willing to serve Him in whatever way He leads.
Fortunately, Zechariah's song (Luke 1:67-79) makes it clear that he now possessed great understanding and belief in how his child would fulfill the Messianic prophesies. This encourages me to realize that even when I stumble, there always remains hope in the future to make it right.
In her song (Luke 1:46-55), Mary doesn't appear to have the depth of comprehension that Zechariah had regarding the coming of the Messiah. What she does have is the simple understanding that she is blessed because He was "mindful of her, His servant."
"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" Luke 1:45
Do you believe that He will accomplish what He said? Then you are blessed! When we ask the Lord, "How can this be?" let us be sure to ask with the heart of Mary, believing and trusting.