Uniform Lesson for Dec. 4, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Luke 1:8-20
This week we begin a new series titled “From Darkness to Light.” Rumbling beneath the selections is the ongoing theme of God’s exceptional choice: the way God chooses the least expected and most surprising candidates for accomplishing God’s purposes. Sound familiar? We start with a unit geared toward Advent and Christmas with the theme of “God Prepares the Way.” Leading off is the couple chosen for the birth of John the Baptist: the priest Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. In many ways, they seem to be the right choice for such an undertaking. In other ways, they, like us, seem to be unlikely candidates indeed!
A righteous couple
In the first few verses of Luke 1, Zechariah and Elizabeth appear to come straight out of central casting. Their pedigrees are impeccable. He is from the “priestly division of Abijah” (verse 5), one of the 24 divisions of the descendants of Aaron chosen to serve the Temple. She is also “a descendant of Aaron,” excluded from the priesthood by gender alone. If you were choosing parents for the person designated to begin a new chapter in God’s bid to spread more light into the growing darkness of our world, this couple fits the bill in terms of lineage. This is an A-Team—heritage-wise. But there’s more.
Zechariah and Elizabeth aren’t just legacy admissions. They clearly have performed according to the metrics most important in Scripture. Luke declares they are “righteous before God” and have lived “blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (verse 6). Thus they join the ranks of people like Simeon and Anna (see Luke 2), people the Scriptures might call saddiqim, or “righteous ones” — not because they are perfect, but because they are zealously attempting to keep the covenant as prescribed by God. Zechariah and Elizabeth were not disciples in name only. They were practitioners of the faith and of faithfulness. That is why Zechariah is about to enter the Temple, and why Elizabeth seems to be the perfect partner. In more ways than one, they seem to be prudent choices, exceptional selections. Except for one thing!
A barren couple
Again and again in Scripture, when it comes to the most important qualification for a particular task, these two, like others, come up empty. Like Moses who is called to speak but stutters, and David who is called to lead but is the smallest, Zechariah and Elizabeth are exceptional in every way except for their ability to have children: “They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old” (verse 7).
Let’s be clear. This observation is no slam against infertile persons or couples. Our pews and neighborhoods are full of good people who are unable to have children. No, this is the Bible’s way of celebrating the miraculous choosing of God. If God needs someone to save a person who is drowning, God doesn’t necessarily choose a swimmer. If God needs someone to rally a people, God doesn’t necessarily choose a Toastmaster. God often chooses those who seem weak or foolish in light of the criterion that matters—that God’s glory may shine. That criterion matters in this story, and it matters in the stories that follow. But there’s one thing more.
A struggling couple
God sends Zechariah the angel Gabriel so he will trust God’s promises that a child is coming, a child whose name will be John. But not only does the angel’s appearance terrify Zechariah (what do you expect in the Holy of Holies!), Zechariah demands a sign from the angel in order to believe. So Zechariah joins another line of questioners and doubters, fallible human beings God can still use to accomplish God’s purposes but with some twists and turns along the way. Zechariah comes out of this encounter unable to speak or witness regarding what he has seen and heard. Not only is he up in years, not only is he one half of a barren couple, but now he is the bearer of a promise he cannot proclaim. A mute witness. A tongue-tied testifier.
Here we must laugh at the humor of God’s choices. God not only seems to prefer the most unlikely candidates, but God is willing to allow detours and switchbacks in order to make the story both more interesting and more inviting. Yes, Zechariah could have encountered Gabriel and come out with the good news of God’s promises. But what kind of story would that be? And what kind of people would such a story include? Let’s look in the mirror!
What parts of Scripture do you prefer? The straightaways, or the switchbacks? The likely candidates, or the unlikely?
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