Summary: A heavenly messenger, a miraculous birth, a normal childhood a short ministry preaching to people who loved his message and hated his message and then an untimely death at the hands of the authorities he had offended. Not the story you are thinking of.
It is a familiar story for this time of year. A heavenly messenger, a miraculous birth, a normal childhood a short ministry preaching to people who loved his message and hated his message and then an untimely death at the hands of the authorities he had offended.
Most people could fill in the missing details if they were asked and they would be wrong. They would talk about shepherds and wise men, heavenly choirs and stables and little animals, drummer boys and stars and flying reindeer. But none of those were part of the story. I know that you are thinking, “Well maybe not the drummer boy and the flying reindeer but the rest were.” Nope, the problem is that the story is familiar but only because it mirrors another story.
At this time of the year we are all too familiar with the Christmas story and all that goes with it, and most of us can parrot back the details both the details that are biblical and extra biblical. Wrapped up in the Christmas celebrations are facts and legends, poems and songs. And that is why Christians, both committed and nominal will celebrate around the world in less than a month. And even those who would never darken the door of a church 364 days out of the year will take time to at least tip their hats to the birth of Christ.
But the story didn’t start when the Angel appeared to Mary, no the story began half a year earlier and 100 kms away.
Before the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph he had already appeared in Jerusalem to a man named Zechariah to announce the birth of a boy who would be named John. Part of the story was read for us earlier and this morning we are going to look at the tale of Jesus’ older cousin John, because the story of Jesus would never be complete without the story of John.
Many people feel that there is so much detail in the book of Luke about what happened prior to the birth of Christ that it could only have come from one source and that was Mary, and so the feeling is that what we hearing in Luke’s account is a firsthand view of the miraculous.
So let’s begin our journey where our Journey should begin, at the beginning. Historically we are at the end of four hundred years of silence in the Story of Israel. The last recorded words from one of God’s prophets had been written in the book of Malachi and the people of Israel have been waiting to be delivered from the various occupiers of their country.
Luke 1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. The Parents of John: Interestingly enough the Elizabeth who is mentioned here is actually a relative of Mary’s. Earlier I called John a cousin because I didn’t know what else to call him. And that’s what he would have been called in those extended families, when you can’t think of anything else to call someone who is kin you call them your cousin. You know if they aren’t your brother or sister, niece or nephew then they have to be your cousin.
When Gabriel appeared to Mary at beginning of the Christmas story he reveals this to her, Luke 1:36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month.
In the King James Version it calls Elizabeth Mary’s cousin but the word in the original Greek was much broader than that and simply meant someone who was related to you, somehow. And she may have been her cousin, we just don’t know. What we do know is that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron and we are told that Mary was a descendant of David’s so whatever relationship there was on their Mother’s side of the family tree.
But we do know a few things about Zechariah and Elizabeth, we know that they were good folk, the Bible tells us in Luke 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. Sounds like good folk to me.
And we know that Zechariah was a priest and that Elizabeth was descended from the priestly line and we know that they were childless. A tragedy for most folks who it happened to but for a priest it was a double tragedy in that there would be no son to carry on his priestly responsibilities.
And we know that they were older, again how old? We don’t know, old enough to be mentioned, but perhaps because it was in relation to their child bearing years maybe it was just relative, maybe they were old in their late forties or early fifties. Not sure.