The stories surrounding the Incarnation are studies in response. Luke carefully tells a series of minor stories that all pile up to one great story. But along the way, each small story has a fascination all its own.
We are ushered into the holy place as Zacharias comes to present the daily sacrifice. The people he represents stand only a few yards away – but an impossible distance of holiness separates them from the action. Zacharias’ surprise at being met in the holy place by an angel quickly gives way to shock at what the angel says. But that shock fades to incredulity. While understandable, this response is one of those lessons it would be wise for us to learn from someone else’s example.
A couple of months later, we sit with Mary as she is taken by surprise by the same angel with a similar announcement. Like her uncle, Mary’s shock at the angel’s presence is superceded by the stunning pronouncement he makes. Against all odds and against all nature, she was to become the mother of the promise of God – the long awaited Messiah! Her shock likewise gives way – but to a question of mechanics. Her problem is not with the promise, but with the execution of the promise. Mary’s response is admirable, but I doubt that any of us, in similar circumstances, would have been able to respond with even close to the same kind of dignity.
Other responses surface in the moment of the event– Herod’s crafty assassination plot, born out of an insane jealousy – possible for any of us who would be king in the face of Him who is King; the informed nodding of the scholars, content to know about, without any interest in actually knowing, Him for whom they waited professionally.
Yet again, the surprise visit and welcome announcement of the angel – and the song of the angels – stuns the shepherds on the hills just outside of Bethlehem. Their response is classic. “Let us go and see!” Here, at last, is a response that we can imitate. We, too, can come and see.
Finally, Matthew tells the story of the wise men, who had been journeying the better part of two years in response to the message they had read in the stars of the night skies, found themselves crowding into a humble dwelling, bowing down, presenting their precious gifts, recognizing the King whose birth they were compelled to celebrate. Here, again, is a response that we can imitate. We, too, can come and worship.