Monday, December 17, 2012

Living with Luke (3)





            Luke the Evangelist is traditionally symbolized by a winged ox or bull –
             a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.                                                                                                        The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.


LIVING WITH LUKE (3)
1:18-25:  Zechariah’s Response to the Angel’s Announcement
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”
19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. 20 Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they wondered why he was in the sanctuary for such a long time. 22 When he came out, he was unable to speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he gestured to them and couldn’t speak. 23 When he completed the days of his priestly service, he returned home. 24 Afterward, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She kept to herself for five months, saying, 25 “This is the Lord’s doing. He has shown his favor to me by removing my disgrace among other people.”
          When Zechariah questions the angel Gabriel it is in terms of the birth of a child (v.18).  But I wonder, given the interplay between the hope of the people and that of this couple, if Luke does not intend us to hear this question as about the hope of the people too?  Because of Zechariah’s faithlessness at this point, he will be mute till the child be born (v.20).  Does this imply as well that the priestly regimen of the temple is also faithless and has no truthful witness to bear about Jesus and his ministry?
          Israel gathered for worship worries about the time it is taking Zechariah to perform his duties.  His reappearance to them, mute, signals that something of extraordinary importance happened to him in the temple.  But he could not tell them what it was! (v.23)
          His period of service at the temple over, Zechariah returns home still mute.  Luke doesn’t tell us whether Zechariah somehow communicated what had happened to him to his wife.  But I think not.  Why else would Elizabeth keep her extraordinary pregnancy a secret for five months?  Could it be that her witness “This is the Lord’s doing.  He has shown his favor to me by removing by disgrace among other people” (v.25) is to be seen in contrast to Zechariah’s muteness.  She can bear faithful witness to what God is and is about to because she is a faithful witness and trusts wholly in God (much like her younger relative Mary whom we will meet shortly). 
          Is this also, perhaps, an example of Luke’s penchant for lifting up women and their witness as Jesus himself did in his ministry?  I suspect so.
          But there is another “disgrace” than Elizabeth’s barrenness that John’s birth will redress.  And that is the disgrace of his people remaining in exile (that is, under foreign domination and control) in the midst of their own land).  John will remedy that barrenness too, as we will soon see.
          Luke is skillfully interweaving various nuances into a tapestry that all eventually lead to another child, the one to be born of young Mary.  The Christmas hymn says that on that night in Bethlehem “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  Amen.    

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