19 December 2016

Luke 1:5-25

“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 76


Not to be able to have children when you long for them is always a painful experience, often silently borne. At the time of Zechariah and Elizabeth it also carried a substantial social stigma, since the primary purpose of marriage was understood to be the continuation of a family line. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth may have been aware that they each had significant ancestry which they were unable to extend to future generations.

It's not easy to envisage the encounter between Zechariah and the angel Gabriel. You might like to explore some artists' impressions of their meeting. In a high and holy moment Zechariah receives the message that the seeming impossible will take place. It is clear that this will be a special child, but the major theme in Gabriel's message is joy, both to Elizabeth and Zechariah and also to the people.

But Gabriel's message goes further, to underline that John's ministry is from God and that the Holy Spirit is involved from the outset. Reference to Elijah (verse 17) may reflect a belief that he, the most revered of the prophets, would return before the Messiah came.

We can hardly be surprised at Zechariah's response to all this (verse 18). In effect he asks for a sign that it is true, and is given the disconcerting sign of his own enforced silence. It is therefore Elizabeth who picks up the recurrent theme of praise to God who does great things.

To Ponder

  • John the Baptist's role here is to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (v. 17). The way in which he does this is "to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous." How do you think he would prepare you for the Lord today?
  • Have you ever asked for a sign to enable you trust God's leading? How helpful was it? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Donald Ker

Donald Ker is a supernumerary minister in the Methodist Church in Ireland. As well as serving as a circuit minister in Bray Co Wicklow and as Superintendent Minister at Belfast Central Mission, he has been General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland and its President in 2009/2010.