December 19, 2011

Born Again

I love how the Sunday and weekday readings intersect this week such that yesterday we had the scene of the Annunciation and today we have the angel Gabriel's announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist.

At first glance, the parallelism of the scenes might seem to reveal an unfairness. Both Mary and Zechariah question the announcements they receive; Mary because, presumably, she knows where babies come from, and Zechariah because he knows that he and Elizabeth had been unable to have children and had grown too old by then anyway. In response to Mary's questioning, the angel gently describes what will happen. Zechariah, on the other hand, is struck mute in punishment for his questioning, and remains speechless until John is born and named.

What gives? Is the angel Gabriel just nice to young women and mean to old men?

On the contrary, this difference in the scenes reveals the good news of Christmas.

Zechariah, because he knew the scriptures, ought to have recognized what God was up to. Several times previously in the history of the people of God, a birth from parents who were previously unable to have children or too old, or both, had signaled the beginning of new moment of salvation. So it was with Samson, Samuel, and Isaac. What was announced to Zechariah was something God was known to do, and Zechariah should have known it.

With Mary the case is different. For her, in her conception of Jesus, God doesn't just stretch the capacity of nature but goes beyond it. The miraculous births of Samson, Samuel, and Isaac are new beginnings of what already was; the birth of Jesus, as a break in the cycles of ordinary human generation as it has occurred since Adam and Eve, is a new humanity. Because what Gabriel announces to Mary is a entirely new thing that God was doing, her questioning is forgiven.

In the Nativity of Jesus, humanity has a new birth. And this is good news for all of us who know the ennui and weariness of life in the old Adam, because this 'born again-ness' is available to us by baptism into Christ's death and Holy Communion with his broken and risen humanity.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this excellent post. It explains things very well for me.

Anthony Zuba said...

I was musing about Mary and Zechariah this morning, too. Thanks for your helpful interpretation of God's seemingly contradictory responses to their questioning.

Anonymous said...

I still do not understand why people are celebrating Christmas party during Advent. One radio station promised to play Christmas song till midnight of the 24th then after that regular music will begin.

Anonymous said...

It also occurs to me that Zechariah had asked God for a child while Mary had not. Thus, Zechariah said please and then doubted that God could/would. God sought Mary, she had not requested anything of Him.


Brother Charles said...

@Samantha: Brilliant! Of course.