UNLIKELY STARTING POINT
Show me Lord, the whole earth full of your glory. Keep this vision before my eyes.
Read LUKE 1:1-17
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
- Luke 1:1 Or been surely believed
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘O come, O come, Immanuel, / and ransom captive Israel’.1
The signs are not promising: a nation ruled by the Romans through a puppet king (v 5); an elderly, childless couple. The great moves of God, however, often start in unlikely circumstances. Despite the unpromising background, despite the unlikely nature of the narrative we are about to embark on, we, like Theophilus, can be assured of the truth of what we read and confident of the hope of salvation that God offers through Jesus – even when our own situations are challenging. These notes are written as the coronavirus pandemic rages; even in the face of such challenges, we can confidently put our trust in a sovereign God who even in the dark times still works out his long-term plan.
Luke starts with a godly priest and his wife who live with the pain of childlessness. The promise of a child to a couple beyond childbearing age or unable to conceive reminds us of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel;2 God’s plans have often come to fulfillment through unusual and unlikely births. There are other Old Testament allusions. John will share some of the characteristics of the Nazirite.3 He will be filled with the Spirit, a mark of Old Testament prophets, and his call for people to return to the Lord is reminiscent of the prophetic message. The words of the angel, subsequently revealed as Gabriel, by referring to the final words of prophecy in the Old Testament (vs 16,17)4 build a bridge between the Testaments. God is starting something new, but it is in direct continuity with all that has gone before. We can have confidence in the ongoing story of God’s saving plan for the world. Malachi was looking forward to a new era of salvation; it is now dawning. John comes in the ‘Elijah’ role of Malachi to prepare the way for someone greater yet to come.
As we read familiar stories this Christmas, try to come with fresh eyes and to find confidence and reassurance. Let God build your faith.
Holy One, during this Christmas season, give me a renewed sense of wonder at your visitation to us in your Son. What a visitor he was and what a visit it was. Hallelujah!
1 Translated from the Latin by JM Neale, 1818–66 2 Gen 13:11,14; 30:1,22 3 Num 6:1–21 4 Mal 4:5,6
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