Sunday 20 December 2020

Bible Book:

'...therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.' (v. 35b)

Luke 1:26-38 Sunday 20 December 2020

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26


How often have you attended the funeral of someone you knew well in their later life, and discovered how little you knew about their childhood? Perhaps you found out that they had been adopted, or heard for the first time about their experience as an evacuee. For many in 21st-century Britain, Luke’s depiction of Jesus’ birth (complete with manger, shepherds and angels) is one of the few familiar stories from the Bible. However, many of Luke’s early readers would have known only of Jesus’ ministry as an adult. Why, then, did Luke feel it was important to share the circumstances of his conception and birth?

The Early Church grappled with any number of questions around who exactly Jesus was, and what significance that identity gave his words and actions. Luke attempts to address some of these questions, obliquely, through the story of Jesus’ birth. The question, for instance, of his relationship with John the Baptist – who was greater? The birth stories of Jesus and John run in parallel (when today’s passage begins "In the sixth month" it's referring to Elizabeth’s pregnancy). There are many striking similarities between Jesus and John – both births were miraculous, as Mary was a virgin (Luke 1:27, 34) and Elizabeth was ‘getting on in years’ (Luke 1:7). Both pregnancies were announced by Gabriel, an angel of the Lord. But there are important distinctions, too – John was born to be the 'prophet of the Most High' (Luke 1:76) while Jesus would be called the ‘Son of the Most High’ (Luke 1:32). Elizabeth somehow recognises these distinctions when Mary visits her, addressing her as ‘the mother of my Lord’ (Luke 1:43).

As well as emphasising Jesus’ closeness to John the Baptist and his distinctiveness, Luke perhaps sought to address questions about when exactly Jesus became ‘the Son of God'. Some in the Early Church suggested that this was not the case until his baptism, or even the Resurrection. But, through the words of Gabriel, Luke is keen to emphasise that whatever gave Jesus his unique identity was present from his conception.

To Ponder:

  • How might those who knew of Jesus only as an adult in his 30s have reacted to this story? What ideas might it have affirmed or challenged?
  • You might like to listen to Paula Gooder speaking about angels in the Bible, and the role of Gabriel. What do you think it is about angels that means they almost always begin their messages with the words ‘Do not be afraid’ (cf.  Luke 1:13, 30)?
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