I suppose technically, I left off the issue from verse 20, but I figured waiting until the second half to deal with it was good enough. I actually really hoped to be done with my Christmas blogging before Christmas Eve, as I hate to do last-minute Christmas anything, and I still wanted to put up something on my other blog. At least my shopping was done weeks ago.
The story picks up six months later, and another angel appears, this time to a young unmarried (but engaged) woman named Mary. He announces to her that she is going to become pregnant with the Messiah. She asks, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" This tends to present a problem for a lot of people, as it seems that she is expressing doubt, but she isn't punished like Zacharias was. Interestingly, while I had always figured that this was a matter of perhaps tone of voice or some other matter that doesn't come across in writing, I think it may actually be clearer than I gave the text credit. Zacharias asks, "Kata ti gnosomai touto?" which translates to "How do I know this is true?" Mary, on the other hand, asks, "Pos estai touto?" which translates as "How will this be?" I think the difference in the verb used is indicative of the thought processes behind the questions. Zacharias is saying "How can I possibly believe this?" while Mary is saying, "Okay, but how should I be expecting this to unfold?" I do admit however that even if you understand and accept the difference between the two questions, it's not really clear why Zacharias deserves to be punished. It may be that in part, the fact that he was struck dumb was intended as a sign of some sort, which we'll see a bit of here.
The angel makes the statement nothing is impossible for God, but the SAB questions that. I actually addressed that back in Genesis, but to put it in a nutshell, while God is able to do "anything" (what this means is actually open to interpretation, which deserves more discussion) it is in character that He will never do anything that goes against His basic nature, which includes lying and subverting free will.
Mary goes to visit her cousin Elisabeth, who is of course now six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Skipping the Holy Spirit question, which I addressed in the previous post, the SAB finds it funny that the fetus that would one day be known as John the Baptist responds to the presence of the mother of Jesus. Really it is sort of funny, and my own pastor spoke about it briefly this Sunday; John's ministry as the announcer of the Christ began three months before he was even born! (Some anti-abortion Christians will use this verse to bolster their case, which might be one of the best arguments if you think about it.)
The question raised as to whether one should fear God was one I addressed at length back in Joshua, and is the last question to address here. The rest of the chapter deals with Mary singing the praises of God and the Savior she carried in her womb, and then the birth of John which involves the lifting of the curse of dumbness on Zacharias, who then also sings the praises of God.