Monthly Archives: December 2017

Luke 1:57-66

Oh, yeah, you’re Philip’s boy. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that in my childhood. Growing up in a small Texas town, everybody knew my dad, and his dad. The family name was known. They may or may not have known my first name, but when they heard that last name they immediately associated me with my father and my grandfather. My dad was careful to teach us boys the importance of that name: how we were stuck with it, and how he and his dad had worked hard to make sure they could give us a good name. The name should be synonymous, they explained, with honesty and hard work. They were proud of their name, and wanted to motivate us to live up to it—and to keep it good for our own sons one day. Our name went before us and said something about not just who we were, but what sort of people we came from. It was part of our identity, and part of our destiny. A name can do all of that.

 

57Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had extended His mercy toward her and they rejoiced with her. 59And it happened on the eighth day that they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him after the name of his father, Zacharias. 60And his mother answered and said, “No, but he will be called John.”  61And they said to her, “No one from your relatives is called by that name.” 62And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed. 64And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65And fear came on all those living there, and all these things were spoken about in the whole hill country of Judea. 66And all who heard them kept them in mind, saying in their hearts, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

It had been a bit over nine months since Gabriel had spoken with Elizabeth and Zacharias. They had had plenty of time to rethink the situation; to bring this strange birth into a perspective that would be more easily explained and grasped than “something supernatural.” I’ve often read the story of Zacharias and wondered what he did so wrong as to deserve being struck dumb by the angel. After all, which of us wouldn’t have a couple of questions in response to what the angel told him? But it appears that the dumbness served a much greater purpose than just a sign to Zacharias: it became a powerful sign to his neighbors. After all, they had not heard him say a word for months. They had come to fulfill the obligations of the Law where the baby was concerned, and they were prepared to christen the child after his father’s name, which was the unquestioned custom of the time. This is significant, since the child’s entire purpose on the earth is to continue the father’s life, so to speak. He is the living validation of the parents, and his name will reflect his origins: Oh, you’re Zacharias’ boy. I am the son of Zacharias.

But his mother speaks up first. Again, Luke shows us something no other gospel shows: attention to the faith of the woman. She corrects the neighbors, and Zacharias follows. The crowd tries to brush past Elizabeth and get the husband to pull rank on her, but he goes along with the strange request for a name that is foreign to their family. Both parents are in agreement: they will name this child based on the word of the Lord, not their tried-and-true custom. In a sense, the boy WAS foreign; he was a miracle, and he was connected to something much greater than a simple family name. The boy’s very existence is connected to the word of the Lord, and their act of obedience to God echoes Hannah’s yielding of her son to Eli after praying for God to end her own barrenness (1 Sa 1). They took God at His word, and then they did an even more startling thing: they acted on it.

The text doesn’t give us much detail about the social pressures of naming the child, but we can understand that Elizabeth and Zacharias were essentially going against Man’s custom in order to be obedient to God’s word. You and I are in the same boat each day; some of the time, it’s so subtle as to not register with our consciousness. But being obedient to His word—which we hear by reading HIs word and being in community with His body, the Church—will immediately set you apart as foreign. Like John, you will be Someone Else’s kid.

Do people know me as a “guy who believes”? Do they assume that I’m religious because they saw “Dallas Theological Seminary” on my Facebook page or associate me with the “Church On The Hill devotional”? Or is my daily faith walk enough to make people quite convinced that I’m Someone Else’s son? Do people associate me with the Family to whom I belong? Just as John was the physical evidence of a supernatural God Who was acting in the lives of men, do people see me as evidence of a supernatural God intervening in their lives?

If they don’t, perhaps I’m not wearing my Family name well.

 

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Luke 1:46-56

Sometimes Christians feel outnumbered. Our scientists assure us that there is no God; among the bestselling books on the New York Times Bestseller list every year are several tomes by prominent atheists. The highest-rated popular comics skewer Christians at every juncture, and our own politicians sneer with contempt at Christians who take their faith seriously enough to be horrified at the murders of 45 million innocent babies. Cities are sued for hanging banners that wish its residents a “Merry Christmas,” and school Christmas programs are carefully scrubbed of any mention of the birth of the Savior. When Mary remarks, in today’s readings, that “all generations will consider me blessed,” it’s difficult to see where this generation considers her blessed; rather, she is the punch line to a thousand off-color jokes by a milieu of impertinent scoffers. Everything seems to be directly backwards from what it ought to be—but, then again, it has always been so.

 

46And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47And my spirit is extremely joyful to God my Savior,

48Since He has looked with care upon the humble state of His servant,

For behold, from now on all generations will consider me blessed.

49Because He Who is mighty has done great things for me,

                And holy is His name.

50And His mercy is upon generation after generation,

                toward those who fear Him.

51He has done mighty deeds with His arm,

                And has scattered the arrogant in the thoughts of their hearts.

52He has taken down rulers from thrones,

                And has lifted up the humble.

53He has filled the hungry with good things,

                And has sent the rich away empty-handed.

54He has helped Israel His child,

                In remembrance of His mercy.

55Just as He has spoken to our fathers,

                To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56And Mary stayed with her about three months, then returned to her home.

Mary’s famous song of praise didn’t occur in a vacuum. She was a citizen of Judea, the most troublesome of all Roman provinces. She was surely familiar with the barbaric practice of crucifixion, in which the authorities nailed criminals to a wooden cross and let them asphyxiate to death in full view of the populace. She knew about high taxes. She knew about unjust authoritarianism. As a Jewish girl, she was part of a racial group that was routinely mocked and mistreated by not just the Romans but all other groups in the empire.

Nor was only her incidental existence fraught with trouble: she was an unwed pregnant teenager who had been promised in marriage to a man from the lineage of David. For her to turn up pregnant was extraordinarily dangerous: not only would she have been ostracized, but she would have been considered guilty of adultery, which was punishable by death. She had the unenviable task of either explaining to her people what God had told her, or sitting in silence and trusting that the One Who had given her this good news would also protect her. There were plenty of reasons for Mary to be concerned for her well-being—not just at this moment, but for the rest of her life.

But in the midst of this personal, political, and cultural drama, the young girl sings a song of praise. The song itself, like Hebrew poetry in the Wisdom tradition, is stacked with parallelisms and observations. In it, she juxtaposes the seemingly opposite images of her humble state and her eternal status of “blessed” (1.48), the Mighty One helping the humble (1.52) and scattering the arrogant (1.51), and the hungry against the rich (1.53). When she says the Lord “has looked with care” (1.48), “has done great things” (1.49), “has done mighty deeds,” “has scattered “(1.51), “has taken down” and “has lifted up “ (1.52), “has filled the hungry” and “has sent the rich away empty-handed” (1.53), she is using verbs that are all in the aorist active indicative tense. This means that these actions have already taken place, and their effects are still being felt at the present time. But it doesn’t take a historian to realize that, in 1st-century Judea, there were still hungry people. There were still people who had become rich at the expense of the innocent. There was still totalitarian injustice. The arrogant sat enthroned in Rome, while the humble were being crushed in Judea (and would eventually be decimated and scattered within the next 40 years). How can she speak of things that have not happened as though they have?

This is the “already-not yet” paradigm that is consistent throughout scripture. In speaking to Mary, God did indeed exalt the humble. This has ALREADY been done. In the last times, He will judge the arrogant with finality and the justice that is required. This is the NOT YET aspect. Mary was able to take stock of her present circumstances and see them as reflective of God’s almighty power—and was also able to see a little of the long-term ramifications of her present circumstance. She took God at His word that this baby would be the hope of Mankind and would have a kingdom of which there would be no end. Against all odds, and despite those around her, she believed—and acted on that belief. She didn’t see the final end results of God’s promise, but she knew He would bring it about.

Our times are no different, and demand a similar response. We watch with worry as our country dives off the fiscal cliff. We grit our teeth as we see properties devalue at an alarming rate. We watch in horror as young men who haven’t yet met this Christ child gun down innocent children in their kindergarten classrooms. In nondescript clinics across the country, the skulls of children in wombs are punctured and their remains vacuumed out and discarded like refuse—or sold for spare parts. In Belgium, the population has decided the proper age to allow euthanasia for children. Where is His promise?

Christmas is when we are reminded of this promise. God has promised that He will redeem this broken creation. He has promised that this Messiah Whose birth we celebrate will return to set things right.  In the moment that the Word was made flesh, the enemy lost this battle for all time. His time is short, and he knows it. This Christ child—born in the most humble of circumstances to the most innocent and helpless of mothers in the most helpless of cultural groups in the most unforgiving of geographical locations—is the Mighty One who will scatter the arrogant in their hearts. Mary was right in her already-not yet observations: He has, and will, fill the hungry with good things. He has, and will, send those with their hands full away empty-handed. He has, and will, help His child Israel.

The truth is that Christians have always been outnumbered. There have always been more of the mockers than there have been of us. So let the scoffers scoff. They have always done so, and two millennia ago Mary had the right idea: This is a time of rejoicing. The Savior is born to us, and not only WILL he set things right (“not yet”), He is in the business of setting things right in the hearts of His people today (“already”) when we trust Him against all odds, like Mary.

 

Luke 1:39-45

Sometimes at Christmas, I’ll get my wife an outfit to wear. It always comes in multiple parts, and I always wrap them separately as individual presents. She has a great deal of fun opening them and putting them all together. But how unfortunate would that outfit look if she only opened one of the presents, and then decided that she’d opened enough? This seems to be the approach we’ve taken in American evangelicalism when it comes to the topic of church. Christ has given us a gift of salvation and redemption, but He has also given us a gift of community—that many of us ignore.

 

39In those days, Mary got up and went into the hill country with haste to a city of Judah, 40and came into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41And it happened when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?  44For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped within my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that what was spoken by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

You might note that there is another parallel with the Abraham story in today’s readings: Mary has taken God at His word. She believed Him. This is significant, inasmuch as we Enlightenment-influenced Christians frequently have set up a pseudo-God in our hearts Who doesn’t make outrageous promises (that way we don’t have to worry with the messiness of believing Him). God promised Abraham that he would become a father in his old age; moreover, He promised that that child would become a great nation. Abraham believed this. Later, when God tested the strength of that belief by commanding Abraham to give Isaac back to Him, Abraham had to have been sorely grieved and hurt and confused—but trusted that God had the correct plan, not he. We saw this paradigm repeated in the lives of Zacharias and Elizabeth a couple of days ago. And now today, we once again see that real faith is always defined by believing God against all odds. But there’s another element to real faith, other than taking God at His word in the quiet individual moment of testing.

We see that, hot on the heels of this private moment of communication between Mary and God, she makes haste for a city in Judah where her cousin lives. What a meeting that must have been in Zacharias’ house! Did Zacharias shuffle off somewhere to keep his sanity while the two pregnant women carried on? Or did he nod in emphatic approval at Mary’s faith? He knew better than most Who was behind all of this. Everyone in that house had believed that the Lord’s word would be fulfilled BEFORE it happened. They had taken God at His word. And they saw the great deliverance of the Lord to Man come about. And they were all together in that house. They were the Lord’s community. Any doubts Mary may have started to have, or worries she may have felt, were immediately alleviated in the confirming words of her fellow believer.

It’s easy to believe God in happy times. It’s not a big deal to reflect on God’s goodness toward us in times in which we have plenty of money and comfort. It’s more challenging to take God at His word during dark and troubling times. It’s difficult to look at the blatant reality in front of us and believe what God says. For many Christians, they never learn to even recognize the voice of God because they never spend any time in His Word or with His people or in His presence. Since these are the main ways God speaks to us, these Christians typically are disconnected from God’s voice. They just fail to believe it. Or, worse yet, they set up another god to believe—after all, they have refused to engage in communication with God on His terms, and are floating in a disconnected way from His community.

Hearing God involves community. Just as in the case of Mary and Elizabeth, we have not only experienced His word, but have been given access to His community, as well. It is misguided, infantile, and wrong to avoid this community. Remember that a person can talk himself into—and out of—anything when he is by himself. Theology wasn’t meant to be lived out by yourself as an individual, divorced from community. You were meant to be part of a thriving body of believers, confirming one another’s faith and edifying one another.

Our Western mindset has a dangerous streak of existentialist individualism in it. We are taught that our decision for Christ is an individual one, and that our relationship with Him is an individual one. While these things are true, there is much more to hearing and obeying God than the individual relating to Him. In fact, it is impossible to live out your theology in private, away from the community that He set up for your benefit. There is actually nothing scriptural about opening one of Christ’s gifts to you and refusing to open the others. Are you taking God at His word today? And are you sharing this experience with others in your life? If Mary needed Elizabeth and Zacharias in her hearing and obeying God’s word, what makes you any different? God has promised that He is present in the community of believers. Since we know this, church shouldn’t be something we do when we find the opportunity; church should be something that we can’t do without. It should be the opportunity we deliberately create. This is God’s community; it’s Christ’s body on earth today. Don’t avoid it; it’s an important part of your ability to hear and understand His voice in your life.

 

Luke 1:26-38

We Americans pride ourselves on our autonomy. We are the masters of our destiny. I control my life—where I work, where I live, where I bank, what track my career is on. It is a strange thing for us to use “servant” imagery to discuss our lives. It can be a real challenge for Western Christians to see themselves as simple vessels of God’s redemptive will. It’s a challenge for any time frame, but it must have been at least equally difficult for a certain young girl in today’s readings.

 

26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin promised in marriage to a man named Joseph of the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary. 28And coming to her, he said, “Rejoice, you who are greatly blessed! The Lord is with you. 29But she was greatly confused at this statement, and wondered what sort of greeting this was. 30And the angel said to her, “Do not fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in the womb, and will give birth to a son and will call His name Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David. 33And He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not known a man?” 35And the angel answered her and said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the holy child will be called the Son of God. 36And behold, Elizabeth your cousin has also conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37’For nothing will be impossible with God.’” 38And Mary said, “Behold the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me according to your word.” And the angel left from her.

 

Gabriel makes another appearance, and this is significant: he is typically the angel associated with revelation (Da 8.15-16; 9.21). He is bringing the most important revelation in the history of Mankind. As in other moments of divine revelation, Gabriel’s pronouncement to her deals not just with the present and immediate future, but also contains an eschatological reminder of the significance of her child. His prediction that the child would one day rule over Israel in a kingdom that is everlasting echoes the messianic prophecies that she would have heard in synagogue throughout her childhood. In a world in which evil is ever-present, it is worth the reminder that our fallen creation is groaning for its Redeemer to fix what is broken, and He has promised to do exactly that. He IS coming, and He’s going to set things right. I think it’s worth noting that Gabriel doesn’t miss a chance to point out the significance of this to Mary, who lived in a troubling time, as well. It is a reminder to me that I should also remind others of this promise, as well.

 

Mary must have been completely short-circuited by the angel’s pronouncement that she has found great favor with God (1.29). The original Greek construction contains a difficult participle (κεχαριτωμενη) that is best rendered “one who is greatly favored” or “greatly favored one.” The Latin Vulgate translated it “full of favor,” which carries an implication that she is the possessor of special favor. The Greek, however, does not have this implication, but rather paints a picture of a simple village girl through whom God decides to work His plan of redemption. She is, simply put, the recipient of God’s favor.

 

Of course, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that a pregnancy announcement would have troubled Mary even further—since she was a virgin. “How is this going to work?” is her simple and effective question (1.34). The answer is as mysterious as it is divine: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be overshadowed by the power of the Most High” (1.35). Whenever we see the “Holy Spirit” spoken of in the New Testament, we may be certain that this is the same YHWH we encounter in the Old Testament. Additionally, “most high” was a term used by many in first-century Judea as a means of avoiding speaking the name of God, which was culturally considered too holy to pronounce. The fact that Gabriel takes the time to utter this profoundly Trinitarian statement—that the Holy Spirit will be involved in a mighty work of the Most High God in the begetting of His Son—is significant. But it is this word “overshadowed” that is most interesting.  The word itself (ἐπισκιασει) is derived from a root that is used to refer to God’s glorious presence at work. It has a long history: Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) employed it in the literal sense of “be under a shadow” a few centuries before Luke is using it here. A few decades after Luke, the Greek historian Lucian uses it in Quomodo Historia Conscribenda in the same way. The scriptural uses, however, tend to much more specific to the divine: Ps 91.4 and Ex 40.34-35, for example use “overshadow” in the sense of the divine presence of God at work in a protecting sense. And Gabriel chooses exactly this word to describe to Mary what is about to happen. The Most High God will, in His unlimited power and His glorious presence (the Shekinah), bring about this great redemption of His creation through this sweet, innocent girl. What more profound expression of God’s love for Man could possibly be wrought? What greater evidence that the Most High God is pleased to be at work in the affairs of men than the Incarnation? His glory, His presence, His power brought about this pivotal moment in history.

 

Mary’s response? “Behold the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me according to your Word” (1.38). Considering the legal and cultural ramifications of this teenage girl showing up in her village pregnant while promised in marriage to a man who’s not the father of the child, this is a profound answer. This is a girl for whom the wrath of the Law and the weight of the village’s condemnation suddenly carry no weight—because she has met the messenger of God. Nothing else matters. All else pales in importance. Regardless of the cost to her societally, she is willing to submit to God’s will for her life.

 

What about you? As you go about your day, living out your theology in front of a world that has declared itself hostile to Christ, are you willing to risk alienation and wrath of your village for the sake of being humbly submitted to His will for you? We should say, with Mary, “I am nothing. I am just a humble servant who does what he’s told. May whatever You want to happen to me happen—in exactly the way You want it to.” It always costs something to follow His will for you. Mary came into contact with God’s word, and suddenly nothing else mattered. Can we say the same or ourselves? Or are we capable of closing our Bibles and shutting down our prayer lives and compartmentalizing our faiths so that they never actually touch the rest of our lives?

 

Luke 1:28-26

Have you ever felt that God had forgotten you? Ever thought of yourself as a second-rate Christian who would never be visited by God’s promise? Ever assume that only super-holy preacher types get their prayers answered? Have you ever had trouble believing His promise that you—an individual—are significant to Him? If so, you’re in good company.

 

18And Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this? For I am old, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19The angel responded to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and have been sent to say this to you and bring you this good news; 20And now behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day these things happen, because you did not believe my words, which will come true in their proper time.” 21And the crowd waited for Zacharias and began to wonder about his delay in the holy place. 22But when he came out, he couldn’t speak to them, and they knew that he had seen a vision in the temple and he kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23And when the days of his service came to an end, he went back to his house. 24And after these days Elizabeth his wife conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25“This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when he looked upon me with favor to take away my disgrace from Man.”

 

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to read this passage and recognize that this scene seems eerily familiar. It happened to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis! The same situation: an old man and his old wife, both faithful servants of God, reacting in understandably dubious wonderment at the news that they will be having children soon. The first time this happened, God was keeping a promise to begin a nation; this time, He’s keeping His promise to redeem creation. The odds were stacked against Abraham in Genesis; they were similarly stacked here in Luke. The beginning of a great national adventure in Genesis is echoed in the beginning of a great global adventure in Luke.

 

God keeps His promises, it turns out. And He’s never late. Both Abraham and Zacharias could well attest to the fact that He sometimes misses an opportunity to be early—but He’s never late. The birth of John the Baptist was coming just in time—and was an example of God showing His favor on many levels. He was sending a prophet to Israel, His chosen nation. He was sending a prophet to pave the way for the extension of the covenant to us, the Gentiles.

 

And He was showing His favor to an individual, as well. Yesterday we saw where Zacharias, in the course of attending to his daily mundane duties, was chosen to stand in the presence of God—both in the lesser priestly sense, and in the literal real sense. His life, already a paragon of righteousness and faithfulness, was radically transformed by a face-to-face with Gabriel, the angel who stands in the presence of God Almighty. Now, in today’s readings, we see where God hasn’t forgotten his child Elizabeth. In her day and time, being childless was an invitation for the public to speculate about all the things that must be spiritually wrong with the woman who was unable to produce heirs. It was disgraceful and humiliating for Elizabeth. But God had chosen her for an incredibly important part of His plan, and through the execution of this plan her shame was removed. She literally found her validation in God’s plan for Man.

 

God hasn’t forgotten you. Your financial problems, your marital problems, the difficulties you’re having in relationships or at work—these haven’t escaped His notice. He is faithful to His promises, and He hasn’t forgotten you. Moreover, He is always on time, and always has a sense of poetry, of art, to His dealings. He’ll find a way to visit you and others on several other levels in ways you couldn’t have possibly imagined. Like Abraham and Sarah—and Zacharias and Elizabeth—we are to believe God at his word. Believe Him. No matter how ridiculous it sounds, He is in command of the situation. He has it well in hand, and will be right on time.

And He’s thinking of you.

 

Luke 1:5-17

The work of a pastor isn’t always so spotlight-centered. We all expect a good pastor to spend a good deal of time in prayer, for example; I had a pastor once who arrived at his church at 6:30 every morning simply to pray for a couple of hours before his day began. Much of a pastor’s time, however, must be spent in the lonely solitude of a study or library, studying God’s Word and preparing to articulate it for His people. He must be involved in a steady diet of exegesis, reflection, organizing, writing, and filing for future reference. He must also visit the sick, attend the obligatory luncheons, counsel people in and out of the church, and oversee all of the committees and events that are in the calendar. If he is isn’t involved in a consistent, steady routine, his ministry of the Word will be random, far-flung, and disconnected. He must come to work every day and be consistent, even in the seemingly mundane details of his work—for it is in such attention to routine and detail that true commitment ultimately bears fruit.

 

5In the days of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah, and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6They were both righteous in the sight of God, pursuing blamelessly all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7And they were childless, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8Now it happened that while he was serving as priest in the presence of God in the appointed order of his division, 9according to the custom of the priestly office it fell to him by lot to enter the holy place of the Lord and to offer incense; 10now the whole crowd of people was praying outside at the hour of incense offering. 11And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense offering. 12And Zacharias, seeing him, was troubled and fell down in fear before him. 13And the angel said to him, “Do not fear, Zacharias, because your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. 14And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will not drink wine or strong drink; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And it is he who will go ahead before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

Zacharias is a guy that doesn’t get enough run, if you ask me. Here is a man who had “consistency” written all over him. He had spent his entire life devoted to the ministry of the temple of God. He was now old, and his whole existence had been one big routine of offering incense, preparing sacrifice, prayer, learning, sweeping the floors, taking out the trash, and coming home to Elizabeth. He had been consistent with her, too; having married a daughter from the original priestly tribe of Aaron, they had labored in the service of the Lord together. They were an old married couple who had had nothing but each other for decades. They were consistent. They were steady. They both went to work every day and did the things that that day’s work required (1.6).

 

But it was in the execution of one such day’s work that an amazing thing took place. It just happened to be Zacharias’ day to offer the incense—a job that fell to him by lot (1.9). He went to work like he had done every day for decades, and immediately set about executing his duties like the faithful guy he was.

 

It just so happened that that day’s work brought him into the presence of God.

 

Zacharias’ execution of his daily duties brought him face-to-face with an angel while he was working in the “holy place of the Lord” (1.9). The angel informed him that his prayers had been answered—apparently, Zacharias was also a consistent man of prayer, among other duties—and he was about to become a father. He was the recipient of the greatest news he had ever personally received. Not only that, but he was the recipient of the greatest news Mankind had ever received up until that point. This faithful old servant of God had gone about his duties like he always had, and was in the right place at the right time to witness a mighty turn of history’s page by God Almighty. In fact, he was instrumental in it. Elizabeth’s inclusion in this story is pure Lukan, as well. Whereas Matthew chose, in true Jewish fashion, to focus on the male heirs in his genealogy, you’ll note Luke’s emphasis on the fact that it’s Elizabeth who is descended from Aaron. Her family provides the lineage to Jesus our High Priest. Another faithful old saint simply going about her business—and by doing so, being in the right place at the exact right time.

 

Maybe your work isn’t in the temple. Maybe your normal routine today is nothing more spectacular than getting kids dressed for church or school or the day. Maybe it’s showing up a few minutes early for Sunday School and helping straighten a room out, or making breakfast or cleaning up your room. Maybe it’s making lunch. Maybe it’s helping kids with homework. Maybe your job is to go teach school tomorrow to a room full of teenagers who don’t want to be there. Maybe your job is to show up at a job site at 6 AM to begin a day of hard labor. Regardless of the specificity of your task, there is spiritual goodness wrapped up in going to work every day and doing what you do.

 

You never know when the faithful execution of your daily duties will bring you into the presence of God. You are incapable of fathoming how He works through your mundane details. You have no way of knowing how He places you at the right place at the right time for His ultimate glory. I’m reminded of Kathryn Hepburn’s character in Rooster Cogburn quoting the old Ellen Sturgis Hooper poem to John Wayne’s Rooster: “I slept and dreamed that all was beauty; I woke and found that life was duty.” Whatever you do today, do it as unto the Lord, like Zacharias and Elizabeth.

 

Luke 1:1-4

1Since many have undertaken to compile an account concerning the events that took place among us, 2just as they were passed along to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3so it seemed good to me as well, having given careful attention to all things from the beginning, to write it out for you carefully in order, honorable [most excellent] Theophilus, 4in order that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

 

The Christmas Story begins, of course, at the beginning. And before we can begin HIS story, we must take careful note of how this story has come into being. Whereas Matthew is a gospel written primarily to a Jewish audience, the gospel of Luke is not. It is addressed to Theophilus, which means “friend of God.” He was evidently a Greek-speaking Gentile of some political power. You’ll note also that the inherent theme in Matthew is that the King has come and His Jewish family has rejected Him—this justifies the giving of the gospel to the Gentiles. The theme in Luke is directly flipped: the entire gospel is written to a Gentile audience and there is a special emphasis on those who were considered social outcasts in 1st century Jewish culture—the women, the poor, the Gentiles. Whereas Matthew presented Jesus as the King, Mark presented Him as the powerful but suffering servant Who acts for God. Luke’s chief presentation of Jesus is as the perfection of the Son of Man—the perfect man come to seek and save the lost and outcast.

 

Luke differs from other writers in the New Testament (with the notable exception of the author of Hebrews) because of his education.  While it is popular to think of Paul as “highly educated,” he was actually schooled in a distinctly Jewish system designed for specific training as a Pharisee. His hometown, Tarsus, had a famous medical school—so there were ample opportunities for secular education, but he didn’t receive that. Luke, however, was not only a physician but an expert writer. His command of grammar and language far surpasses others, revealing a Hellenistic education with an emphasis on Rhetoric. According to Mark Bailey, in Luke’s gospel there are 5 poems (hymns), 20 miracle accounts, 35 parables, and 586 out of the 1150 verses are quotations of Jesus. There are 250 words in Luke that are unique to Luke. He was a writer, and it showed.

 

Today’s readings reveal another aspect of Luke that is unique—his intent: “it seemed good to me as well, having given careful attention to all things from the beginning, to write it out for you carefully in order, honorable Theophilus” (1.3). He is setting out to write a true account of some events that have been previously reported “by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (1.2). Simply put, Luke is an historian. He is citing multiple sources and laying out a factual account of exactness and accuracy for an audience.

 

Luke had traveled with Paul and had raised money on his behalf; he knew how to do the work of an evangelist. He was giving a good answer to the question “Who is this Jesus?” You have your own experiences and training; notwithstanding, have you given thought to what your answer will be today if the same question is posed to you? Like Luke, are you able to give an account of the perfected Son of Man in your own life?