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Zac DavisDecember 19, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

Find today’s readings here.

“But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words” (Lk 1:20)

The angel Gabriel. A birth announcement. An admonition: “Do not be afraid.” Zechariah’s learning about the improbable birth of his son, John, has a lot of similarities to Mary’s learning about the birth of her son, Jesus.

They both even respond with similar incredulity: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years,” Zechariah asks Gabriel. “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Mary similarly inquires in the very same chapter in Luke’s Gospel.

There is one glaring difference in the two stories: Zechariah is left unable to speak “because you did not believe my words,” whereas Mary is given an explanation and a word of comfort. It leaves a reader with the age-old theological inquiry: What gives?

When I prayed over these readings and imagined the two different accounts, my imagination went to how the question was asked. We all know how a tone of voice can make an innocent and curious “How can this be?” sound despairing and defiant.

In the leadup to Christmas, there is plenty of advice for how to be a good gift-giver. You can easily find gift guides for coworkers, mothers-in-law and even 1-year-olds who are more likely to play with the wrapping paper than the gift itself. But even the best gift can feel underwhelming in the hands of a poor gift-receiver.

In Mary and Zechariah’s case, they are both given this incredible, improbable gift from God: not an ugly sweater, but a son.

Sometimes we can be a bit like Harry Potter’s cousin, Dudley Dursley, complaining about his birthday presents: “THIRTY-SIX? BUT LAST YEAR, LAST YEAR, I HAD THIRTY-SEVEN!”

More realistically, I’m sure there are many of us who, at some point in our lives, should have smiled more authentically when we unwrapped that toy we already have, or that wrong version of the gadget, or those shoes that were the wrong size from a well-meaning relative.

In Mary and Zechariah’s case, they are both given this incredible, improbable gift from God: not an ugly sweater, but a son.

In our own spiritual lives, have there been times when we were unable to recognize a gift from God because of some expectation or idea that did not match with reality? Were we open to surprise? Did we dare to ask God for a gift in the first place?

The prayer after Communion at today’s Mass gives some good fodder for prayer: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come, that we may welcome the Nativity of our Savior.”

God has already given us gifts. And while we ask for the grace to desire more, may it prepare us to celebrate (and I apologize for the Hallmark cliché here) the greatest gift of all.

More: Scripture

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