Four hundred years of silence and then God quietly, yet profoundly tells the world of His love in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. Although He arrived in a stable in an obscure village to a couple of humble estate, nothing shouts to the world “I love you” like God’s becoming man – Immanuel – and walking with common men. It is in the nature of God to desire relationship with His creation.
Prayer, with all of its nuances and complexities, is a part of that relationship. Some of those complexities are in the way God communicates with us. The more we understand that prayer is as much about listening as it is about talking the more we will be blessed by the wonder of His communication.
God broke His four hundred year silence when He sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she would carry and give birth to Jesus, “Son of the Highest.” Mary, although humbled and wondering how this could possibly be, said to Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” She was part of a heavenly conversation. God spoke to her through an angel and Mary offered a prayer of submission saying to God, “Your will be done.”
God often speaks to each one of us differently. It appears that Mary saw the angel Gabriel face to face. Joseph saw an “angel of the Lord” but in a dream. Perhaps their experiences were the same but they are recorded differently. Three times Matthew records that God spoke to Joseph through an (unnamed) angel in a dream. In a fourth dream (Matthew 2:12) no angel is mentioned but Joseph received a warning in a dream. Unlike Mary, Joseph apparently asked no questions but quietly obeyed the word he had received.
The angel Gabriel also appeared to Zacharias, “standing at the right side of the altar of incense” to tell him that God had heard his prayer and that he was going to have a son. Like Mary, Zacharias wondered how this could be and asked for assurance from the angel. His assurance from Gabriel was that he would be mute until the birth of the child.
We also know of the heavenly host appearing to shepherds and a star guiding some kings. Sometimes God speaks in a quiet voice, sometimes in a thought impressed on the mind. He can also speak through dreams and visions and messengers.
In all of our praying, it is important that we tune our ears to hear what God is saying. We may never see a vision and God may never send an angel to speak to us, but God is still eager to communicate with us – if we are willing to listen. Then like Joseph, we quietly obey and like Mary we say, “let it be to me according to your word.”