How can I know? How can this be? Who, me?

Something came up, kind of spontaneously, as I was substitute-teaching an adult Sunday School class, yesterday.
I write "kind of spontaneously" because it's not a new thought, just a new way of looking at something the Holy Sprint has frequently prodded me about.
The lesson included a discussion of the angel Gabriel's appearance to the virgin Mary ("the Annunciation") and his appearance, about six months earlier, to the Priest Zechariah, as recounted in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke (the "Christmas story")
In both cases, Gabriel told his astounded audience of one about the miraculous conception of a child that was to occur, events that would mean great changes and challenges for them, personally, and for their nation, and for their world.
Zachariah, a "professional religious" person, doubted ("How can I be sure of this?") and questioned God's messenger, and consequently, was made mute until his son, John (named in accordance with the angel's instruction), was born.
John, the one we call "the Baptist", was conceived, in the normal way, by Zachariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who, abnormally, had lived into menopause and beyond, barren and childless.
God's Holy Spirit had quickened her womb, restoring and healing her, and restored a more youthful vigor to her husband as well, so that the promises in God's word might be fulfilled, just as he'd done for and thru Abraham and Sarah, hundreds of years before.
Zachariah had to let go of his human ideas about what was and wasn't possible in order to see this great thing accomplished and to have his ability to praise and worship aloud, and even prophesy, restored (Luke 1:67-80).
Unlike the situation with Zachariah, Luke is almost mute about the circumstances of Gabriel's announcement to Mary about what the Holy Spirit was about to do in her womb... the conception and incarnation of God in the form of a baby... the fulfillment of ages-old prophecies and promises.
But he tells us that, after a brief moment of doubt (" How can this be? I am a virgin!"), Mary accepted the word of God, received thru His messenger, and even praised and prophesied before Zachariah was able to, about what God was doing thru her and her cousin Elizabeth.
Later on, when Jesus was born, and the humble shepherds told her, and anyone else who would listen, about the things the angels had told them about her child and who he was, she simply and humbly "treasured... and pondered... these things in her heart".
When someone or something tells us they are transmitting a message from God Almighty, or we are moved by "a spirit" to do or refrain from doing something, including understanding or acceptance of our inability to understand, do we react like Zachariah, or Mary, or Jesus' step-father, Joseph, or some other way?
Scripture tells of God's angels and God Himself speaking to many people, many times, many places.
God still speaks, today, thru His word and thru others, and yes, directly to individual people,and it is an awesome and wonderful thing.
But, How do we know it's God speaking to us, directly and personally, thru His word, thru another person, or thru inspiration?
Scripture tells us to "test the spirits" and to beware of false prophets and bad teachers. There's an excellent discussion of that here:
But, an analogy came to mind yesterday that kind of illustrates the answer to the questions: "How can this be?" or "How can I be sure of this?" Or the even harder and more common one, "Who... Me?" (See the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8)
This device I'm typing on has a password to protect it from being used by someone with no right to the information it contains or the capabilities and applications it has.
Similarly, smart parents give their children a "safe word" so that the child may test a stranger that approaches them saying that their parent wants the child to go with the stranger or do something the stranger wants them to do. If the stranger doesn't know the word, or tries to tell them the word has somehow been changed,the kid knows to run from them or seek help from another known and trusted adult... a teacher, or a cop, or a pastor.
We test the legitimacy of one who claims to be representing God or telling us His will for us... how He wants to use our capabilities or access our contents... by comparing what we are being told to the "safe word" of God, and by being well acquainted with His "ways" and His being.
When I was a child, I could recognize the subtly unique sound of my mother's footsteps before I see her, and knew my earthly father's voice from another room. I could recognize their walk and ways of moving from a distance too great to hear their normal voices or the sound of their footsteps.
It's the same, now, with the tread of my wife and voices of my children. When either of my daughters calls on the phone, I don't normally have to ask, "who is this?", even without caller ID.
My son's speaking voice was so much like mine, that anyone acquainted with both of us, but unused to hearing from one of us, could be confused (without caller ID) about which one was on the phone, before they were able to sort it out, usually, merely by the content of our conversation.
It would have been possible, I suppose, for one of us to deceive someone who was acquainted with one or the other of us, or even the both of us, if we were deliberate and careful about it.
But if the deceived one was well acquainted with either of is, the deception wouldn't last long, and if they were intimately acquainted with either of us, the trick would fail very quickly or even immediately.
Now, the devil knows scripture and the devil knows God, and both hates and fears Him... and the devil knows us too, he has our numbers.
And the Devil and his servants will deliberately and carefully seek to deceive you about who he is and what he's trying to do. He spoofs caller ID, and masquerades as an angel of light.
The devil wants to be intimate with you... The way a predator is intimate with its prey, the way a pedophile is intimate with an helpless child, or a rapist is intimate with a victim, the way a wolf or a lion is intimate with a sheep.
God wants an intimacy with you that's deeper than the joyful intimacy of a man and wife, deeper even than the intimacy of the breath in your lungs, the blood in your veins, the light in your eyes.
Know and remember His word, open your mind and your heart to His spirit, know His voice and His walk and His ways of moving and being, and you won't be so easily deceived or confused... or eaten.
He can conceive in you a new life where there was barrenness, new life beyond what a man can do, like He did for Zachariah and Elizabeth, like He did thru Mary for the whole world.
Zachariah knew the word, but seems to have forgotten, at least momentarily, what it says about not leaning on our own understanding about how things work and about the faithfulness and power of the Creator of all things. But God used him, and Elizabeth, and their miraculous son, John the Baptist, as tools to pave the way for the promised One.
Mary trusted that God speaks and acts in this world and can and does use even the least of us to accomplish great and world-changing things and fulfill His promises.

Mary heard His voice in the words of the angel, and her intimate acquaintance with the Spirit birthed eternal life for those who believe, and trust, and ponder, as she did.
Her Son raised the widow's son, and Tabitha, and Lazarus, and Himself from death.
He raised me (
I'm here to tell you, on behalf of my heavenly Father, who has spoken to me and speaks thru me, sometimes, and who has raised me from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind, body and spirit, more than once... I'm here to tell you, to His Glory, that Jesus is Lord, that He was born, lived and and died, for you.
He has now conquered death, and ascended to sit on the right hand of our Father-God, and He will return to this dark world to raise up all who have heard and accepted this word to be with Him in eternal life.
The Holy Spirit testifies to this word, and you may test my words against the word... please.
And, happy Christmas and Merry Holidays!