2 Samuel 9-16

Chapter 9 tells us that during the time that kings are normally about their business, David had decided to stay home. He should have been out about his work, but wanted to laze around the house. His sloth led him to great sin, as we find out. The “doing nothing with my day” plan led him to be seduced by his own lust, and he took advantage of Bathsheba. Rather than see her as a fellow image-bearer of the living God, he chose to see her as an object to be possessed. God is very displeased when we treat one another as objects to be exploited, rather than image-bearers of God. But even in the midst of his great sin, David yet knows that he can count on God’s unwavering loyalty to him and superior guidance. He accepts God’s justice for his sin in a spirit of repentance. Psalm 51 is likely written during this episode. Unfortunately, we also learn that our children are always watching whatever lesson we’re teaching with our actions, and so David’s sons learn to commit sexual sin out of their selfishness just like David had done in his sloth. All the troubles that come afterward are due to David’s accidental “teaching” of sin to his kids. Still, of course, God makes provision for David’s return, and David never stops counting on God’s word for his guidance and mercy.

Sloth leads to sin. Be about your work today, knowing that God’s loyalty and provision are to be counted on as if they’ve already happened. He is loyal and we aren’t, at our cores. So do your work, treat others as image-bearers rather than objects to be exploited, and count on God’s mercy, loyalty, and guidance.

2 Samuel 1-8

In today’s readings, we see that those who trust God will wait patiently on him. This takes practice and time, and David shows us an example of this. He is anointed by Samuel to be king of Israel, but had to wait years to see that come to fruition. When he writes in the 37th Psalm that one should wait patiently on the Lord, he is writing from a place that he understands quite well. We see that the word of the Lord is always true, as well: despite how circumstances look on any given day, David is indeed crowned king of the entire nation in due time. He recognizes God frequently as the “Lord of Hosts,” which is a military term used to describe the commanders of the armies of heaven. David, the military man, trusts God for military strategy, provision, and safety. God is the Lord of Hosts who always goes to the battle before us and breaks out against our enemies. We also see that David’s plan to build God’s house was nice, but God had a better plan. That’s a lesson to remember: his plan is always better than ours.

David models what it means to trust God. He is human and does a lot of dumb and wicked things in his life, but the one constant is his humility before God and his unwavering belief that there is no one more loyal than God Almighty. If you trust God for your righteousness today, why not trust him with everything else? Wait patiently for the Lord, and remember that he can always be counted upon. His word is never false. He goes before you and fights your battles whether or not you notice it. His plan is better than your plan. You can count on him. Settle down and act like that today.

1 Samuel 21-31

These chapters show a contrast between two courses of action in our lives: trusting ourselves or trusting God.

Saul, for example, chases David and looks for him in the tabernacle. He instructs his men to kill the priests, but his Israelite men know that YHWH forbids this in the Law. Saul, also an Israelite, doesn’t care. He has a problem, in his view, and he alone can solve it—so he takes advantage of the fact that an Edomite is present, and commits murder through him. He took matters into his own hand. He will do the same thing later, when he is in confusion about how the next day’s battle will go. He hires a medium to commit the sin of necromancy (talking with the dead), feeling like he must take matters into his own hand. In so doing, he is left to his ultimate doom. Contrast Saul’s behavior, though, with David’s. On the run from Saul, he consults YHWH before any military activity to seek His counsel. When he is presented twice with the opportunity to kill Saul, he recognizes that this is a sin and refuses to take matters into his own hand. He trusts YHWH with justice instead. Even when his own anger at Nabal drives him to attack the man, God intervenes, knowing that David is a man who has already committed himself to Him in his heart. Abigail tells David that God has intervened to prevent David from taking matters into his own hand. In all of his adventures, David trusts God and not himself—the direct opposite of Saul.

In fact, the entire book of 1 Samuel demonstrates this theme: from Hannah to Eli to Samuel to David, we learn that if we commit our way to the Lord, he will act (Psalm 37). We wait patiently for him, because it is in His very nature to act on our behalf. We don’t have a problem to solve: that’s already God’s problem, and His solution is better.

What are some ways you can trust God instead of yourself today?

1 Samuel 11-20

Samuel shows us that it is a sin for a man or woman of God to cease praying for others (1 Sa 12.23). We learn from the story of Jonathan (1 Sa 14) that God doesn’t need an army to do the things that he does; a similar lesson was learned with the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. We see in chapter 16 that God is omniscient, seeing deeply into us the things that we try to hide from others. Of course, we can know that the Lord delivers those who trust in him, which is the primary lesson of chapter 17’s epic story of David and Goliath. In David’s own word, “the battle belongs to the Lord.” He is the true Lord of Hosts, the one who fights for us. In chapter 19, David flees from Saul, and the first place he goes is over to Samuel’s house—the house of the Lord. So when David needs to hide, he hides in God. Thus, from today’s readings, we can see that God doesn’t need an army, is omniscient, delivers those who trust him, is a hiding place and the owner of the battle, and loves steadfastly.

Take your confidence on God today. Hide in him. Put the battle in his capable hands.

1 Samuel 1-10

1 and 2 Samuel form one book in the Hebrew Bible, as do the rest of the historical books such as the Kings and the Chronicles. At the very beginning, we meet Hannah, who is desperately praying for a miracle birth. She is a sort of parallel to Sarah in Genesis and the mother of Samson in Judges and Elizabeth in the New Testament: she prays for a child and God hears her prayer. Her song of praise to God (1 Sa 2) even mirrors Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. We see that both Eli and Samuel are pastors of the Lord’s people, but are terrible at pastoring their own families. The reason? The work of the Lord can be very demanding and all-consuming, but it’s not supposed to be. Those in ministry ought to prioritize their families ahead of their ministries. When he’s a boy, Samuel literally lives in the holy place, and that’s where he learns to listen to God (1 Sa 3). We learn to hear God when we, too, “live” in Him, constantly returning to the Word and to prayer. The big enemy of Israel at the time is the coastal tribe of the Philistines, and they defeat God’s people and steal the ark of the covenant—a huge blow to the nation. But though Israel seems impotent in the face of the enemy, God is not—and fights for himself. He so thoroughly defeats the Philistines that they willingly return His property back to Him (1 Sa 6-7). This leads to a revival of sorts, in which God’s people decide to put away their false gods and return to the sole worship of YHWH (1 Sa 7). The 8th chapter shows us that God has given the power of governance to mankind, and mankind tends to regrettably lend that power to rulers—often for no better reason than that everyone else is doing it (1 Sa 8:20). When Saul is anointed king, he returns to his home, but on the way he is met by prophets, and the Holy Spirit of God rushes onto him. Just like Moses in Numbers, the first thing that happens when Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit is his tongue is affected—his speech, his language. He begins to immediately prophesy. The sign of tongues is evident even in the Old Testament.

From a devotional standpoint, these 10 chapters show us that God is omnipotent and undefeatable, and yet he hears our prayers and answers them. He leads us toward himself, and he desires that we throw off the distractions that hinder us and find our “living place” in him. You attend the holy place once a week; can you LIVE in the “holy place” in your life this week?

Ruth 1-4

The story of Ruth is the story of the background of Jesus Christ himself. It is filled with rich symbolism and depth. Naomi, for example, is from Bethlehem, which is Hebrew for “House of Bread.” Ironically, at the beginning of our story, there is no bread in the House of Bread. She has to flee to a foreign country to find food. While living in Moab, her husband dies, as did her sons. She gave her daughters-in-law the freedom to leave and stay in Moab as she returned to her homeland, but Ruth decides to stick it out with Naomi. In fact, her words are telling: Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Though Ruth is a Gentile foreigner, she is willing to abandon her people, her ways, and her pagan worship and cling to the one true God, YHWH. In this way, she is similar to Rahab in the book of Joshua, who does the same thing and is allowed to live among the Israelites.

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem, but Naomi is despondent; she sees herself as cursed by God, one who left full and came back empty. Ruth has to go to work, and while working in the fields she meets Boaz. Boaz is older and more established financially, and he is extremely taken by Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi. After all, she is a Gentile; what would she know about “hesed” (Hebrew for “faithful love”)? He is impressed that she has shown this sort of love, and makes sure she is taken care of. Meanwhile, once Ruth tells Naomi, the older lady explains that Boaz is actually a kinsman-redeemer. According to the law, because of his kinship with Naomi, he is given the right to “redeem” Naomi and her family from their situation. The word “redeem” means “to purchase” in some sense. And that’s exactly what he does: Boaz purchases the rights to care for Naomi and Ruth and handle their property. In so doing, they come to rest under his “wings,” which is another way of saying “the corner of his garment.” Centuries later, another Gentile woman will beg to touch the hem of the Savior’s garment in order to be healed; here, we see such mercy being typified in the story.

As it turns out, Naomi had had it directly backwards: she had gone away empty and come back full. YHWH had made her full by providing for her and her daughter-in-law for the rest of their lives. He had provided a redeemer for them. And from one of their children, he would raise up the ultimate Redeemer who would purchase humanity from darkness.

From this narrative, we see some of God’s character: he is the ruler of destiny, for example. He directs history, and it is he who has the plan, not us. He provides for his people, and even provides a way for those “outside the camp” to join and learn of God’s faithfulness as well. There is no one more faithful than God, who has purchased our salvation and provided for our needs. This, of course, means that we can trust him in all things.

What are some ways that you can practically trust God to direct your story and provide for your needs?

Luke 2:8-21

When I woke up one winter morning a few years back, it was cold out, so I started a fire in the fireplace. I cleaned out the ashes left over from previous cold mornings, went out to the wood pile, and gathered firewood. Before I stacked the firewood in the fireplace on the grate, however, I put an armful of dried leaves on. When I lit the fire, the leaves caught first in a spectacular conflagration that immediately caught the wood. Within seconds, I had a nice warm, steady fire in the fireplace. Without those leaves, however, I might as well have been rubbing two sticks together. The leaves picked up the tiniest flame and made it a big one; they spread the smallest aspect of a fire until it became large.

The Anunciation is the part of the Christmas story where the good news of Man’s redemption catches some fire among the people. What had been a small flicker of divine doings on the down-low becomes, in the hands of the shepherds, the first evangelism campaign.

8Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were greatly terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not fear, for behold: I bring you good news of great joy, which is to be for all the people, 11that today is born to you in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly, there was with the angels a vast army of heaven, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15When the angels had gone from them into the heavens, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go indeed to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us. 16So they went in a hurry and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. 17When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about the Child. 18And all who heard them were astonished at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, wondering about them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them. 21And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Just like with Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, today we find the Lord’s angel appearing before someone else: unnamed shepherds in a nearby field, doing their tedious and thankless job. This time, the angel is not alone: he’s brought some friends. The text here uses a word (στρατιας) that has sometimes been translated “multitude” in verse 13. However, this usage of the Greek carried a military connotation with it: a much better rendering is “army,” as in “suddenly there was with the angels a vast army of heaven.” What a stupendous sight that must have been! One minute, you’re minding your business in the bitter cold, watching smelly livestock and living out in the elements as the lowest rung on the social ladder (just above tax collector)—and the next, you’re in the presence of the “hosts” spoken of in the Old Testament any time you’ve read about the “Lord of Hosts” (Sabaoth). God chose these shepherds to carry this first message of good news. The ones who would most have appreciated a Messiah were the first to hear about Him.

A pattern that we’ve seen developed in earlier readings in the Christmas story is perpetuated today: people interact with God’s word, then immediately seek out a community of like-minded believers with whom to fellowship. We frequently point to the humble nature of the manger scene—and rightfully so—but another aspect of this setting that is so profound is that, once again, it is church. There, in the manger, is a concentrated collection of people who have been interacting with God’s word and are together with one another. There is praise, singing, and adoration—and there is the presence of Almighty God. And alongside this church paradigm is an evangelism one. The angel explicitly told the shepherds that he was the bearer of good news; the Greek word for “I bring you good news” (εὐαγγελιζομαι) is the root word for the English “evangelism.” The text tells us that the shepherds didn’t waste any time spreading this news around, and everyone who heard it was astonished. Long before the Great Commission, the first evangelists were shepherds, the ultimate metaphor for the God-Man relationship. The Child about whom they were so excited would grow up and claim to be the Great Shepherd. The lowly disciples He would befriend and train would be known as shepherds who were to “feed [His] sheep” (Jn 21).

God’s plan for the redemption of Man and Creation was executed brilliantly and powerfully. While the enemy no doubt rejoiced at the pagan rule over the known world, the defilement of the temple by the infamous pervert Herod, and the oppression of God’s chosen people, something awesome was happening in David’s old hometown:

God was made flesh.

The venerable theologian Anselm gave us the great Theory of Satisfaction that best paints the picture of God’s great Home Run that was hit in Bethlehem that morning: In Eden, Man offended God. He MUST reconcile to God, but is unable. God IS able to reconcile, but shouldn’t have to—since He’s the offended party. The solution: the God-Man, born in Bethlehem—fully divine, fully human. He is able to reconcile the unbridgeable chasm between God and Man in a way that leaves the enemy on the run for two millennia—in fact, for all eternity.

On this blessed morning, when it was dawning on the shepherds Who this child really was, there was church happening in that manger. There was evangelism happening thereafter. The Plan was in effect, and the hosts of heaven bore witness to it. Man’s only hope came into the world, guarded by the hardiest stewards of His creation, adored by a small community of fervent believers. From this tiny, unassuming flame, the conflagration of the gospel would spread.

As you and your family take some time this season to reflect on the God-Man’s birth, consider the community to whom you belong. Consider that you are part of a great flame that is even now burning through the darkness of history. Consider that your destiny is to help spread the good news that has come, “to give light to those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.” And consider how that darkness was banished once and for all by the Sunrise from heaven on this first Christmas morning.

There is, in back of every human mind, a dull dread that all simply continues on as before. There is sickness, decay and death—what has happened before happens again, and will continue unabated. But the Incarnation is an announcement that this is not true. God the Most High has interrupted history and split it in two. He is the One Who breaks in to “reality,” altering it forever according to His own design. The Incarnation teaches us that reality was meant to be interrupted by the Spirit in the name of the Son, according to the design of the Father.

May your world be interrupted by the in-breaking of God’s Spirit this season–and may the hand of the Most High God heal, deliver, and work wonders, as is His nature.

Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:1-7

When my wife and I felt called by God to come to Dallas for me to attend seminary, it wasn’t a sudden audible voice from heaven that rang out unmistakably. There was an inkling in our hearts that such a path was consistent with some gifts that we already had; much of what we were reading in the Word seemed to confirm it, and we spent a lot of time in church with others of God’s people who were involved in the same process. By July of 2008, after a time of prayer and fasting and running this past others in our circle of influence who knew us and our gifts and were also in His community, we were certain of His direction. And while we were excited about the new adventure that awaited us, we had no idea what was really in store for us. We had no idea that we would be without a home for four months, or that we would suffer financial hardship. We had no idea how strange and irresponsible this would all seem to our extended families. And we still have no idea what kind of impact we’re to have on our culture—though we occasionally see evidences of that impact in church with others who are now walking in the same faith. Sometimes it costs something to follow God’s will on your life. And sometimes, extraordinary things happen while you’re on the road He’s put you on.

1It happened in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, to register the whole Roman Empire. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to register, each to his own city. 4Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, to the city of David in Judah, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, who was pregnant. 6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth, 7and she gave birth to her first-born son, and wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Much has been made of Mary’s extraordinary faith; she believed God at His word, despite long odds. We spent some time noting the faith of Elizabeth and Zacharias, as well: against equally long odds, they believed what God had told them. We marvel at how easily they believed, given our Enlightenment-era propensity to doubt.

But how about that Joseph?

Here’s a man who already had the birthright: he was already of the lineage of David (2.4). He didn’t need Mary, and it shouldn’t be difficult for us to imagine that he didn’t need the social headache that came with the Virgin Birth story she gave him. He would have been well within his rights, in that time, to bring her before the Sanhedrin for death by stoning. She was espoused to be married to him; in that culture, in that time, this custom was much stricter than just a simple engagement. This arrangement was tantamount to marriage without consummation, and could only be broken by divorce.  Even in our own cultural marriage customs, it’s hard to imagine a man who would follow through with the marriage to a fiancé who turned up pregnant by someone else just prior to the wedding.

We’re told by Matthew’s gospel that Joseph was a just man (Mt 1.19). Rather than have her stoned, his idea was to simply divorce her quietly—that way, at least he wouldn’t be responsible for a terrible punishment being inflicted on her. Given Judaism’s penchant for justice in the 1st century legal aspect (which we’ll see plenty of in Jesus’ ministry), it’s interesting that the word choice Matthew uses is “just” to describe Joseph. We might use a different word in association with Joseph’s decision: “grace.” He was a man who was already motivated by grace rather than retributive justice toward his bride—and that was just when he was sitting there thinking about the problem (1.20).

Like Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary before him, Joseph is visited by an angel of the Lord and told about the holy goings-on. And like them, he readily accepts God at His word—despite the negative ramifications, culturally. He would be stuck defending Mary against the slings and arrows of her own countrymen. He would be stuck going through with a wedding in front of his family and friends with a pregnant wife—a pregnant wife who had come nowhere near him during their engagement. He knew how they would talk and whisper and hold her in contempt—and him along with her. Joseph had a hard row to hoe, right along with Mary. Sometimes it costs something to follow God’s will on your life.

But today’s readings paint a picture of a man who has willingly accepted responsibility for Mary and the future of this Child. He becomes her defender and provider, and the father to this Son. He is a law-abiding, decent man whose faith in God’s word led him to follow an extraordinary path. A pattern emerges in Luke’s Christmas story: the significance of faith. Each of these people—Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph—has interacted with God’s word and allowed it to permeate their lives. They have responded with action that reflected their acceptance of that word. They are immediately pictured with others who are also interacting with that word, as well—a community of believers who have each other in the midst of a culture that is destined to be radically impacted by their simple acts of faith.

Yes, it is significant that the Son of God came to earth as a child and was laid in a smelly manger with the animals. It is significant that there was no room in the inn for them. But the Christ child wasn’t alone: He was welcomed into the world by those who had already believed Him. When He ministered, He was surrounded by those who believed Him. When He returns, it will be those who believe Him who rise to meet Him.

Are you interacting with God’s word and believing Him today? Are you in community with fellow believers of that word? Joseph was an ordinary man who was given a powerful destiny and the strength to walk it—just exactly like you. The best you can do today is to interact with God’s word, be in community with other believers, and believe that word as you hear it. You never know how what extraordinary things will happen while you’re on the road He’s called you to be on—or how your faith choices will radically impact your culture.

Luke 1:67-80

In a ritual that seems to repeat itself approximately 82 times per week, my young son will be getting ready for school on a weekday morning and suddenly realize that he’s left his shoes in the back yard. At 5:45 in the morning, it’s pitch-black outside. He knows he’ll never find anything stumbling around in the backyard in all that darkness, about which he’s vaguely afraid anyhow. So he goes to a handy switch that’s been installed on the wall and flips it into the “up” position. Now the back yard is flooded with bright light; it’s practically daylight back there, and he is able to find his shoes.

One of the most powerful aspects of the Christmas story is the promise that a Great Light has dawned upon Man in the midst of his darkness. That’s why it’s all the more tragic to hear the stories each year of millions of people who are depressed during the Christmas season—people who are living and walking in a sort of perpetual darkness, for whom the season isn’t bright and cheerful.

67And Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,

 68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has come and accomplished redemption for His people,

69for He has raised up a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David His servant,

70just as He spoke through the mouths of all His holy prophets from of old,

71Salvation from our enemies and the hand of all who hate us,

72To show mercy toward our fathers and to remember His holy covenant,

73The promise which He promised to Abraham our father, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, would serve Him without fear,

                75In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

76And you, child: you will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways,

77To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins,

78Because of the profound mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from heaven will shine on us,

79To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80And the child continued to grow and become strong in spirit, and he stayed in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel.

The old priest Zacharias is filled with the Holy Spirit in today’s readings and begins to prophesy. When he does, he repeats a pattern that we found in Mary’s song of praise the other day. As it was in that section, (1.46-56), our author, Luke, has preserved the praise in poetic verse. In his poetic prophecy, Zacharias uses aorist active indicative tense in his verbs—indicating an action that has already been accomplished, but whose effects are ongoing (just like Mary did). And just as in Mary’s song, Zacharias speaks of some future events as though they have already taken place: “He has come (ἑπεσκεψατο, 1.68) and accomplished (ἑποιησεν, 1.68) redemption for His people”, and “He has raised (ἡγειρεν, 1.69) up a horn of salvation for us”. When Zacharias is speaking (circa 4 B.C.), none of these things appears to be anywhere near being true where Israel is concerned. She is under the thumb of Caesar Augustus as a Roman province. Her land is defiled with Roman legions keeping the fabled Jewish nationalism in check. Later, as we’ll find in Christ’s ministry, she is under a sort of double-oppression: her scribes and Pharisees have elevated the Law to the status of their God. If anyone seems to be “sitting in darkness” (1.79), it seems to be Israel. How can Zacharias say this?

It’s simple: because God told him, and Zacharias believed Him. It’s a theme that’s as old as Mankind: Zacharias even references the original promise to Abraham (1.73-74) as the origin of the promise that’s coming true with the advent of the Messiah. So even though he must live in the dark oppressive times of 1st century Judea, Zacharias is overjoyed to see God fulfilling His promise in His own inimitable way. He’s read the end of the book, and he knows Who wins—and this is the chapter where He redeems the creation that fell in Eden. Note that Zacharias even uses Gabriel’s own language in prophesying to his son: “And you, child: you will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways” (1.76). Flip back to 1.17 and read Gabriel’s words, and you’ll see that the entire incident has made Zacharias even more of a true believer than he started out. He is overwhelmed with the conviction of this unimpeachable truth:

What is happening in my house and the house of my relatives is the coming of God—He is now in the process of bringing redemption to His people and salvation from our enemies so that we may serve Him in righteousness and holiness without fear.

You don’t have to be Secretary of State to surmise that Israel is not living in complete salvation from her enemies (either in 4 B.C. or today): this is Zacharias rejoicing over what’s coming, as though it’s already there. And when he turns his prophecy toward his son, he speaks of the broader promise of God toward not just Israel but all Man: “you will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (1.76-77). John the Baptist is going to prepare the way of the coming Messiah by introducing His people to the concept of forgiveness of their sins. Think of how revolutionary this would have been to the heavy-regulatory environment in which these folks lived. And this forgiveness will be accomplished by something far more stupendous in power than the blood of an innocent lamb from the Levitican law: this forgiveness will be accomplished by the “profound mercy of our God” (δια σπλαγχνα ἑλεους Θεου ἡμων, 1.78). The One originally offended by Man’s choice to sin in Eden—causing Creation to fall—will Himself “accomplish the redemption” (ἐποιησεν λυτρωσιν, 1.68) of Man. He will be a great Sunrise from heaven that lights up Man’s world, and shines on those sitting in darkness.

And that’s the good news—the gospel—in its first nutshell: Man sits in darkness and shadow of death, but God Almighty has acted. He has intervened in the history of Man to accomplish redemption—and this is the light that vanquishes our darkness.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of unbelievers for friends. I hear them go out of their ways to defile the sacredness of Christmas as a sort of rebellion against what they think is superstitious Christianity. I see their Facebook posts wishing me a “happy Solstice” and displaying pictures and memes that ridicule the “Christmas spirit.” And underneath the callousness, the sarcasm, the cynicism, and the vitriol is something deeply saddening to the heart of God: people sitting in darkness. These people—my friends—are sitting in darkness. They live and move in the shadow of death. They don’t really have hope—in this life or the one to come. They are the statistics about which you read each year around this time: the people who are depressed every time the holidays come around. And just as God brought the “already/not yet” salvation to Israel with the Incarnation of the Christ child, He has brought salvation to Man. He has brought a great light to shine in the lives of these friends of mine—a great light that is given by His profound mercy.

They’re stumbling in the backyard in the darkness. The light is there; their whole world could change and be flooded with the light of the Great Promise that came true on Christmas.

It’s been installed and wired, and only needs for someone to flip the switch.

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.