Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Luke 1:57-80

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John."
61 They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Points of Interest:

• ‘Then they made signs to his father’—apparently, Zechariah was not just mute, but deaf as well; or maybe the neighbors just got confused.

• ‘Immediately his mouth was opened’—the very next words out of Zechariah’s mouth after his doubting question nine months ago are words of praise when God proves that he has done what he promised. After nine months of silence, Zechariah has a lot of words stored up, and they come out in a song of praise and prophecy.

• 'a horn of salvation’—horns are symbols of strength and power. An animal uses its horns to defend itself and fight its rivals. God is similarly providing them with someone or something to defend them.

• ‘the oath he swore to our father Abraham’—Zechariah is probably referring to God’s promise in Genesis 15 that he would free Abraham’s descendants from slavery and give them their own land.

• ‘to rescue us from the hand of our enemies’—it would be natural to assume that these enemies are the Romans. Just like he once freed them from the Egyptians, he would now free Israel from the Romans. This political interpretation was, in fact, very common in Zechariah’s time. However, it doesn’t seem that it is what Zechariah has in mind. The specific enemies he mentions are sins and death.

• ‘you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him’—as was mentioned in Monday’s passage, the prophet Malachi says Elijah will precede the return of the Lord. Isaiah also speaks of a messenger who would go ahead of the Lord to prepare his way (Isaiah 40: 3-5); we’ll talk more about the Isaiah passage on Friday.

• ‘to shine on those living in darkness’—another reference to Isaiah 9: ‘The people walking in darkness/have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2).

Taking it home:

For you and your family: there’s something fun and powerful about praising God aloud. Zechariah probably had an extra dose of energy in his praise, because he hadn’t been able to speak at all for so long; but maybe all of us could benefit from imitating him. I know that when I choose to speak aloud about God’s goodness (even when I’m just talking to myself), I almost always find my spirits lifted, and I have a feeling that more of God’s goodness is being unleashed in my life. If there’s even a hint of something good in your life that you feel you could thank God for, trying thanking him aloud. You could use your own words, or use Mary’s song from yesterday or a psalm like Psalm 100 as a guide. Don’t just read silently or think it, but speak out; I, at least, find it makes quite a big difference. If you’re feeling extra bold, tell someone else how good you think God is; if you do, I suggest you go ahead and use your own words, rather than belting out Mary’s song at an unsuspecting listener.

For your friends: Elizabeth and Zechariah’s faith causes them to do something unusual in naming their child. This strange choice intrigues their friends, provoking wonder and curiosity. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s willingness to do the unexpected seems to open everyone up to the possibility that God might do something extraordinary. Have you made a strange faith choice recently? Do any of your friends know about it? If so, how did they respond?

For our city: this supernatural birth is not just a private affair. The whole neighborhood is celebrating Elizabeth and Zechariah’s good fortune, debating together about what the child should be named, and discussing together what all of these things might mean. It’s one of our hopes for the Elm City Vineyard that we would be known widely as a place where supernatural things happen. Already, we’ve seen some pretty remarkable things: people being healed of physical and mental sicknesses, unexpected provision of money for car payments, and all sorts of other things. Pray that our church would continue to see more of God’s supernatural activity, and that it wouldn’t just be our own private experience but the talk of the town.