Sabbath Reflection for Friday, December 19 (’14)
Perhaps, for a time, you should make the study of the Gospels a top priority and, specifically, Luke’s Gospel.
As we approach the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus, our Immanuel, I appreciate Luke more than ever. He is immaculately careful in what he writes and how: the details, comparisons, parallels, players, verbs, etc. In short, Luke is a master writer and his narrative is superb literature.
Today’s reflection will be a little different. Instead of lots of exegesis and application, I’m simply going to lay out the detail Luke gives and leave you to ponder its historic, cosmic significance. Luke uses precise and paralleling prose to capture stark contrasts, the grace and mercy of our Heavenly Father, and the plan to redeem a people for himself.
It will be crucial to have Luke 1 open before you to see what I’m providing below. The verse references are given as main headings in bold with sub-points and verses underneath them.
Text: Luke 1:5-45
Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Gabriel
(1:5-7) Main players and obstacles introduced
› Priestly lineage of parents established (1:5)
› Elizabeth and Zechariah, a righteous couple (1:6)
› Social status given: “they had no child” (1:7a)
› First obstacle: Elizabeth is barren (1:7b)
› Second obstacle: “both were advanced in years” (age) (1:7c)
(1:8-10) Zechariah at his regular work attending his duties
(1:11) Gabriel visits Zechariah
(1:12) Zechariah “troubled” and “fear fell upon him” “when he saw [Gabriel]”
(1:13a) Gabriel seeks to calm Zechariah and affirms his prayer is heard
(1:13b-17) Gabriel reveals the biography of son to be born
› Son’s Identity (1:13b-15)
* Name will be “John” (1:13)
* He will bring “joy and gladness” for them and for many (1:14)
* He will be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from…womb” (1:15b)
› Son’s Purpose and Mission (1:16-17)
* To “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (1:16)
* To “go before (Lord their God) in spirit and power of Elijah (1:17a)
* To “turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (1:17b)
* To turn “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” (1:17c)
* to “make ready a people prepared” (1:17d)
(1:18a) Zechariah asks, “How shall I know…?”
(1:18b) Zechariah points out obstacles to fulfillment
› He is old (1:18a)
› His wife is old (1:18b)
› No mention of the obvious: his wife is barren
(1:19) Gabriel answers how Zechariah can know
Notably, Gabriel does not answer Zechariah’s raised obstacles.
(1:20) Gabriel punishes Zechariah’s lack of faith
(1:23) Zechariah responds by mute-signing and continuing his service
(1:24-25) Elizabeth’s response of faith and thanks
Now we come to where Luke shifts the narrative. As he dealt with a precursor (and his parents) to the long-awaited Messiah, now he moves to the Messiah himself, and his parents. Luke was in the Temple itself; now he shifts to a different kind of dwelling place.
Mary, Joseph, and Gabriel
(1:26-27) Main players and obstacles introduced
› Social status given: “betrothed” (1:27a)
› Paternal royal lineage established (1:27b)
› First obstacle: youth (“virgin” /παρθένου in Greek [and Isaiah 7:14] carrying nuances of youth and explicit sexual chastity)
› Second obstacle: sexually chaste and unwed/”betrothed”
(1:26-27) Mary living life regularly—nothing to make her stand out
(1:28) Gabriel visits Mary
(1:29) Mary “greatly troubled” (but no fear, unlike Zechariah) at both the saying and greeting of Gabriel
(1:30) Gabriel seeks to calm Mary, insisting she is “favored with God”
(1:31-33) Gabriel reveals biography of son to be born
› Son’s identity (1:31-32)
* Name will be “Jesus” (1:31)
* Will be “great” (1:32a)
* Will be called “Son of the Most High” (1:32b)
* Yet is also a son of David (1:32c)
* Is the rightful heir to David’s kingdom and covenant promises (1:32c)
› Son’s purpose/mission (1:33)
* Very simple: to “reign over the house of Jacob forever” (1:32-33)
(1:34a) Mary asks, “How will this be…” (contrast this with Zechariah’s concern that he does not know, even though it is being told him. Mary is concerned with method; Zechariah is concerned with trust)
(1:34b) Mary points out obstacles to fulfillment
› “I am a virgin” (1:34b) (she mentions sexuality whereas Zechariah does not (the “barrenness”)
› No explicit mention of youth/age, unlike Zechariah
(1:35) Gabriel answers Mary how this will be
(1:36-37) Gabriel provides answers to obstacle: God does the impossible
(1:38-40) Mary responds by seeking Elizabeth and greeting her
(1:41-45) Elizabeth’s response of faith and thanks
In critical ways, the main players in chapter 1 contrast, even while the God acting behind them and upon them is beautifully faithful and consistent. Do you see the glory of this Scripture? Do you see what God did, how he did it, and the enormous differences in the responses of Zechariah and Mary and, bridged between them, Elizabeth?
What a Savior we have, and here is the historical beginning point of the incarnation:
An angelic appearance contrasting two couples, two responses to the announcements given, two sons, and two purposes.
Merry Christmas, indeed, Charlie Brown!