Summary: Jesus coming is heralded by three messengers. We too are called to herald his coming to those we know.
It’s perhaps appropriate in the week when Harry Potter hit the big screens in Australia that we should be looking at this account of Luke 1. Because here we see the supernatural in far more startling form than anything you’ll ever read in Harry Potter - and this is history! Here we have an angel appearing out of nowhere, announcing that a barren couple will have a child. Even more amazing than that, he subsequently announces that an unwed virgin will also become pregnant and bear a child and even more startling, that this child will be called the Son of God. And overarching all of this is the announcement of God intervening in the creation to bring salvation to all people.
Here at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel we find three accounts where a herald brings a message to God’s people, a message of hope, a message of a long-awaited deliverance.
1 John, the Forerunner.
After a short introduction, which we’ll look at later, Luke launches into the account of the birth of John the Baptist. We’re introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, both descendants of Aaron. Their story is one which has certain parallels with another story from the Old Testament, that of Elkanah and Hannah, who were the parents, after a long wait, of Samuel, the first of the Prophets. We’re told that Zechariah and Elizabeth were getting on in years. Like Elkanah and Hannah, and Abraham and Sarah before them, they were getting too old to have children. In fact they were probably well past the normal age for childbearing. Yet, strangely, as far as people of their day were concerned, they were both righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Their barrenness, you see, would have been taken as a sign of God’s displeasure. But not so! God had great plans for them and for their son who was yet to be born.
One day as Zechariah is standing in the Holy of Holies, a privilege received probably only this one time, his prayers are interrupted. There, to the side of the altar, is an angel. You can perhaps understand that Zechariah at that moment is terrified. But the angel quickly reassures him. He’s come bearing good news. His prayers have been answered. His wife Elizabeth will bear a son and they’re to call him John.
Well, that’s certainly good news for Zechariah and Elizabeth. But as you read on you start to wonder, what were the prayers that this child’s birth would answer. Were they just the prayers of a barren couple for a child to be born, or were they more than that? As we read on in the first couple of chapters of Luke’s gospel we come to realise that the prayers that are being answered may be far more than just Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s. Notice in v10 that the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. As we read on we discover people like Simeon and Anna who are waiting for God to act, to bring about the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Jerusalem. So it seems quite likely as we read further that the prayers to which the angel refers are those prayers: prayers that God might send the Messiah to restore the Kingdom of Israel.
Certainly the words of the angel in vs16&17 point to such a conclusion. This child will be the one whom Malachi foretold, Elijah reborn, who will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Well, the response of Zechariah is total confusion. He wants to know how he can be sure of all this. After all he knows how old he and Elizabeth are, how impossible all this is. But the angel will have nothing of his doubting. He’s the angel Gabriel, who stands in God’s presence. He’s been sent by God to give this message. How could anyone doubt such a messenger? But just to show that he is what he says he is, he tells Zechariah that he’ll be struck dumb until John is born.
Well, as the story progresses we discover that Elizabeth does become pregnant and we end this episode with Elizabeth rejoicing.
2 Jesus, the Son of God.
Well, if the first herald’s proclamation of good news was received with joy, we have to imagine that the second herald’s message may have caused a little less joy. In fact probably quite some consternation to begin with. Here was Mary, betrothed to Joseph, of the line of David, and she’s about to be told she’s going to have a baby, without Joseph having anything to do with it. The angel may say that she’s highly favoured, but she may wonder whether Joseph will think so.