If you ever doubt that God is working through the lives of ordinary people in order to bring about God’s reign and the new creation, Luke 1 is for you! Here we see that God chooses Zechariah and Mary to play vital roles in the new order. God sends a messenger (“angel” in Greek) to each to clue them in on the wondrous births their futures hold and what these children will mean to the world. The story begins with the conception of the one to pave the way, Zechariah’s son John the Baptist, and the one who is the promised Messiah, Mary’s son Jesus. Linking the stories and the families is the marvelous scene between two expecting (never has “expecting” meant so much!) mothers, Mary and John’s mother, Elizabeth.
Questions to Ponder (just as Mary pondered these things in her heart):
Luke writes his gospel for Theophilus (in Greek, “lover of God”). Luke is addressing a person named Theophilus, but this story is for all lovers of God. Surely all lovers of God will want to pay close attention to this “orderly account” from eyewitnesses of what has transpired. I invite you, lover of God, to set aside time each day to chew on the scripture for the week. Read several versions of it (NRSV, NIV, KJV, CEB, the Message) and see which speaks to you. Websites like Bible Gateway make it easy to quickly switch between versions. Focus on what words, phrases, or parts of the passage stick out to you. If they elicit prayer, pray. If folks or situations you are facing come to mind during this study time, pray for them. Find a quiet place, create an altar, light a candle. Make this time special and essential to your daily life. Read for transformation, not information. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your reading and teach you as you go.
Contrast Zechariah’s reaction to the angel Gabriel’s news with Mary’s reaction. Although both have questions as to how what the angel is saying will happen, Mary responds with openness and surrender while Zechariah responds with doubt and skepticism. How do you tend to respond to what seems impossible with God? Watch throughout the gospel as the most religious followers of God, those like Zechariah, are often the most resistant to the new vision (or the reversal of how they think things should be) Jesus offers them. How do we cultivate the childlike, daring faith of Mary? Do we need to be silenced as we watch and reflect on what God is doing?
As my dear friend Rev. Meredith McMillan notes, Chapter 1 of Luke seems like a Disney musical—everyone seems to be breaking out in song! And what beautiful songs they are. I invite you to focus on and pray Mary’s song (the Magnificat) and Zechariah’s song as your special prayers this week. Better yet, post them on your bathroom mirror or stick them where you will see them and use them as a guide throughout the year. I pray God’s blessings upon you in this New Year and upon your pondering of these texts. I know that I am claiming this part of Zechariah’s beautiful song to carry me through 2020:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79