Same angel, different response
God gave to Gabriel the task of taking real good news to an old priest (Zechariah) and real good news to a young ordinary woman (Mary). I don't know what angels think of us, but what a shocking difference in responses this one received!
In both cases the news he was sent to deliver was good: "I want to bless you and bring blessing to the world through you." Not judgement, not trouble, just blessing! For Zechariah it was the news that he and Elizabeth would bear a special son in old age and have the ancient stigma of childlessness removed. For Mary, it was the stupendous news that she would bear the Son of God into the world.
If anyone should have been prepared for good news, it was Zechariah. For a starters, it was news he had probably prayed for. Then he was a priest on duty - shouldn't his spiritual antenna have been in tune? Furthermore, he was chosen by lot on this occasion to burn incense - a once in a life time privilege for a priest. The message was even delivered at the height of that ceremony for effect, and for added impact was delivered by an angel! The news was not even 'out of the blue' historically, for Abraham and Sarah had borne a child in their old age.
Everything was arranged to make faith easy for Zechariah, but he did not believe "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years", and was chastised with nine months of dumbness.
Six months later, Gabriel was sent to visit someone at the opposite end of the "religious"/ "favoured" spectrum - an ordinary girl from an ordinary village, engaged to the village carpenter. If anyone had reasons not to believe it was her. In addition to her ordinariness ("Why should God be bothered with me?") she had to climb the hill of biological impossibility and novelty. Everyone knows babies aren't born without fathers. Nothing like this miracle is found in the Old Testament. And what about Joseph and what about the response of this news on Mary from the village?
And yet, though the bar is set so very high, Mary believes the good news; "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."
The Encouragement and the Warning
Zechariah serves as a great great warning to every believer - and especially to older believers who have been on the road for years - of the danger of a hard cold heart of unbelief. Wow what a serious warning! God may be speaking - and even be speaking blessing - but it's possible to be deaf to his voice.
Mary, on the other hand, serves as an encouragement for those who though small in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world, nevertheless have, not great faith, but faith in a great God.