Luke 1:18-26

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.”

 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).

 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 anangel 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 isnothing 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?