Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,
and if he does listen to teachers,
it is because they are witnesses.
Paul VI, Evangelli Nuntiandi
I have a collection of angel images throughout my home. One of my favorites was purchased while in the Holy Land and features the angel Gabriel and his oft overlooked visitation with the priest Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, who was cousin to Mary.
It comes from the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, assembled from those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and from what ministers of the word (teachers) have handed them down to us.
Zechariah’s visitation occurs at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and finds the priest ministering in the temple. He is greeted and encouraged to be at peace. The birth of a long-awaited son is foretold and given a name as well. The name “John” (Hebrew, Yohannan) means “Yahweh has been gracious.” The vision of John’s role of preparation on behalf of the Lord also begins the Christmas story narrated at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke.
And, in the face of this, Zechariah response to the angel regarding the likelihood of such possibilities: How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. And he is struck mute after not grasping the promise to have joy and gladness. Nonetheless, Zechariah continues forward in ministry and life, quietly echoing Habakkuk 2:1 I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint.
All this is in contrast to Mary’s yes. Of course, she also questions… but not against the miraculous possibility but to understand this confusing opportunity that defies what is previously known. The angel reminds us that nothing will be impossible for God; that this sort of miracle has already occurred for Elizabeth; and the truth of the word of the LORD which had already come to Jeremiah: I am the LORD, the God of all the living! Is anything too difficult for me? (32:27)
Mary also retains her voice and commits forward. Upon witnessing the confirmation of God’s miracle within Elizabeth, she testifies My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. Later, at the birth of his son and serving in his own role of fulfillment of the angel’s message by affirming his son’s name as John (see??!!! He was listening) Zechariah is given his voice back and also testifies Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
Now, acknowledging my own warped sense of humor, the bas relief which hangs in my living room completes the story of the visitation of Zechariah. It illustrates the moment when his voice returns and, yep, it works for me that it is portrayed as an angelic goose.
If you speak on behalf of the Lord, may you serve as a witness proclaiming the greatness of the Lord who brings mercy and redemption. If you teach of the Lord, may you only have voice as a witness. If you doubt, keep moving forward in example and hope, but wait for the angelic goose which prompts your voice. This Christmas, may we all join is the hymns of angels as we sing our praises Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.