Given that this Sunday we will be celebrating the Birth of John the Baptist, I thought I'd say a few words here about the Gospel from the Vigil Mass. Most know the story of the announcement of Jesus' birth. But Luke deliberately contrasts that angelic encounter with another--the story of Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah. Without knowing this story, one really fails to see the big picture of Luke 1.
Of course, Luke begins his gospel by telling us about the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth. Zechariah, who was serving as priest in the temple, hears the word of the Lord through the angel Gabriel (cf. Luke 1:5-25). Zechariah, a priest, a man one would expect to have great faith, fails to believe the word of the Lord.
Luke then contrasts Zechariah’s disbelief, with Mary’s response of faith (cf. Luke 1:26-38).
Indeed, there are many similarities between the account of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and the Annunciation to Mary. In both instances the angel Gabriel comes to announce the miraculous birth of a key figure in salvation history. Both Zechariah and Mary are “troubled” by the appearance of the angel (Luke 1:12, 29). They are also both told, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13, 30). In addition, both are given the name of their future progeny (Luke 1:13, 31). Finally, both inquire as to “how” the plan announced to them shall be fulfilled (Luke 1:16, 34).
Yet, the similarities underscore the striking difference between Zechariah’s response and Mary’s. Whereas the priest Zechariah fails to believe, Mary, a poor young peasant woman, responds in faith.