White stars that stand above the eastern stable.
Look down and offer Him.
The dim adoring light of your belief.
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.
Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century? (Thomas Merton)
During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old. (Luke 1:5-7; context)
Yesterday, I said that this Advent (and this pre-Advent week), we’d be looking in depth at Jesus’ birth narrative as found in the Gospel according to Luke. Each day, we’d take a few more verses and by Christmas, we’d have finished the whole thing. Now, you probably know the story pretty well: there’s a star and shepherds and angels and magi and Mary and Joseph and no room in the inn. Oh, yes, and the baby Jesus. (At least, that’s one way to tell the story, and we’ll discover in a few weeks that some of those elements aren’t in Luke’s story.)
But first, we’ll begin with a few people who are in Luke’s story, people you may have never heard of. In fact, you just might be wondering who the heck these Zechariah and Elizabeth people are. Why does Luke start with them? They certainly aren’t main characters, so why are they the first we meet?
Luke is doing here what might nowadays be called “deep background” on his main subject, Jesus. Before we meet Jesus, we meet his mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. Before we meet them, we meet Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, the parents of John the baptizer. Luke knows that later in the story, John will be an integral character in pointing toward Jesus’ messiah-ship. So, being the good scholar he is, Luke digs into John’s past and finds a story nearly as miraculous as Jesus’ own.
You know right away that the story is miraculous by the way Luke sets it up: “They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old.” Sound familiar? It should because it’s almost exactly what Genesis says about Abraham and Sarah before they become pregnant with Isaac. The birth of Isaac was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s sweeping promise to Abraham. By putting the birth of John in line with this tradition, Luke is signalling to us that God is getting ready to make good on another promise – the coming of the messiah.
Dear God, you always fulfill your promises. Help me to put my whole trust in you so that you can use me to continue carrying out those promises. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, keeping awake and alert for the revelation of your love for this world.