Do you find it curious that Luke begins his account of Christ’s birth by comparing Mary’s faith with the fears of a priest? Meeting the angel beside the altar, Zechariah is gripped by fear. And when the angel announces glad tidings, that his wife Elizabeth will bear a child, the priest asks, “How can I be sure of this?” “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18 NIV). In addressing his fears, Gabriel says, “I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time” (Luke 1:18-20).
Despite his status as a priest, Zechariah’s faithlessness stands in contrast to the trusting belief of two women without recognized spiritual authority or cultural status. One is the elderly and childless Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife. She welcomes her pregnancy with the faith you would expect from a priest. She says, “The Lord has done this for me” (Luke 1:25). The other is Mary, a young girl engaged to be married. She is not a priest serving in the Temple, yet even Gabriel–who serves in the presence of God—appears to her. He tells her she will bear the Son of the Most High. Unlike Zechariah, Mary receives the miraculous news with a confident faith. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary’s Magnificat is filled with the spiritual perception you would expect of a priest. Though young and uneducated, she understands the character of God who celebrates her humility; extends mercy to those who fear him; scatters the proud in their inner thoughts; brings down rulers from their thrones, but lifts up the humble; fills the hungry with good things; and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:47-54).
Christ’s birth is inaugurated through the faith of two lowly women. One is shamed by her age and childlessness, the other because she is pregnant and unmarried. Both are vehicles of God’s redemption to the whole world. Bursting from the pages of Scripture, Christ’s redemptive presence is often missed by the powerful but finds a welcome home in the hearts of the lowly. It is the humble who are authoritative; the faithful who are lifted up; the outcast who become the courageous followers of Jesus. It is not birth, gender, or class that makes us apostles—those who are sent—but their willingness to be responsive to God, through the gifts God gives us.
The legacy of these women is part of the good news of the Gospel to the world, which inaugurates men and women despite their age, education, or economic status, as leaders and witnesses of Christ’s redemption.