Today’s reading is Luke 1:1-38:
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph,of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke begins with a dedication, to Theophilus, and with a statement of purpose; this gospel has been written “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Luke seeks to remove doubt, to provide clarity and evidence to his readers about the life of Jesus.
To begin the story itself, Luke presents two parallel events, the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. In both cases we see an angel, addressing an unlikely recipient of good news. We see reluctance on the part of the recipient and then acceptance of the blessing of God.
Zechariah, an old man with a barren wife named Elizabeth, is ministering in the temple, when he is confronted by an angel who announces Elizabeth will bear him a son. What’s more, the angel promises that the child will cause rejoicing and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Further, the angel reveals God’s purpose for the child, that “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” Zechariah is skeptical, as he and his wife are both old and childless, but the angel is insistent, and even rebukes Zechariah’s doubt. Yet, later in Luke we will see Zechariah accept this good news, this blessing, and Elizabeth is shown recognizing her blessing in verse 25 saying “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Then, we are given a parallel story about Mary, which is usually called the Annunciation. An angel also appears to Mary, telling her that she will bear a son. Mary, being a virgin, is confused, asking the angel how this could be. The angel reassures her that with God nothing is impossible, and that this child will be blessed and used by God to restore the throne of David. Mary then accepts God’s will, saying to the angel, “let it be to me according to your word.”
The two stories both tell of an angel who foretells the birth of a child to someone who did not expect it, who did not even think such a thing to be possible. Both times, the angel promises blessing for the child and reveals God’s purpose for the child. Both are accounts of good news.
Luke has started his gospel with examples of announcements of good news, the situations of Zechariah and Mary mirror not only each other, but the position of the reader. Beginning the gospel, we are presented with news, news too good to be true, news too good for people like us, news with promises of blessing, and news which reveals the purpose of our lives. We may be skeptical at first, we like Theophilus, may lack certainty about this, like Zechariah we may be skeptical. However, the gospel of Luke is here to remove those doubts, just as the angels did.
The gospel declares to each and every one of us the blessings God has promised us, the blessings of salvation from sin, of triumph over death. The gospel reveals God’s purpose for our lives, that we must seek to be Christ-like, that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, and that we must faithfully strive to be the image of God on earth. Even though an angel has probably not announced this to you or your parents, nonetheless, it is true.
This Lent, let’s reflect on the blessings God has promised us and on the purpose God has revealed to us. Like Mary, Zechariah, and Elizabeth, let’s accept the love of God for us, reading the gospel and saying “let it be to me according to your word.” Let’s carefully examine the life and story of Jesus, so that like Theophilus, we will have certainty concerning these things.
Greg Scalise ’18 is a Philosophy and Classics concentrator in Pfohorzheimer House, and Features Editor of the Ichthus.