Preparing a way for Jesus (December 11, 2022)

A uniform Lesson for Dec. 11, 2022.

Uniform Lesson for Dec. 11, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Luke 1:57-66, 76-79

Through the birth of John the Baptist, God is preparing a way for the coming of Jesus. But to get there from here, God has some work to do. First, God has to provide a child for an aging and barren couple. That’s some heavy lifting. But second, God has to provide speech for a mute witness. Because of the reason for this muteness, this task may be more difficult to pull off. Third, God must keep this couple working together to give birth to the particular promises God has made — not just a child, but a child with a particular name and a particular purpose. Now that’s the kind of heavy lifting that requires the patience and the persistence of God and especially the Holy Spirit. Let’s see how God makes a way in this story, and think about the way God makes a way in ours.

Elizabeth speaks

You might think Elizabeth fulfilled her part in the story once the baby was born. That’s the way her neighbors and relatives reacted, rejoicing with her in her delivery. But Elizabeth is a saddiq, a righteous person. She wants not only to birth a baby, but to fulfill a promise — one made to her through her mute husband. That requires fulfilling the law with a circumcision on the eighth day and naming the child for the occasion. Here’s where it gets interesting. How does Elizabeth know the name for this child?

This question has some easy answers. Maybe Zechariah wrote it down for her, as he does later for his neighbors and relatives. But the storyteller doesn’t say so. Maybe Elizabeth had an encounter with the same angel who appeared to Zechariah. But the storyteller doesn’t say so. No, Elizabeth seems to give birth to this name, in the same miraculous way her younger relative, Mary, will later give birth to Jesus. This name is a work of the Holy Spirit, to whom both of these women seem attentive. Although Elizabeth is excluded from the priesthood by her gender and seems to be excluded from this story by her barrenness, she steps forward and speaks at an opportune time, thereby providing a chance for her husband to write down some words and, later, sing a song. Elizabeth’s “no” thus provides a space for Zechariah’s scribbling and singing. This may be the most miraculous delivery of them all.

Zechariah writes

Yes, it’s insulting that the neighbors and relatives refuse to move forward until they receive the decision from Zechariah. Shouldn’t the mother’s inspired words be enough? But here the storyteller pauses to allow the frantic “motioning” of the crowd and the scribbling of the priest in response — followed by the immediate opening of Zechariah’s mouth so he too can now speak and praise God. This passage is a story of a chain reaction: a miraculous birth, followed by an inspired speaking, followed by desperate motioning, followed by scribbling that leads to the spoken praise of God. This chain of events finally gets the attention of the gathering, leading to fear and awe on the part of the relatives and neighbors as well as of the “entire hill country of Judea.”

Maybe God has a purpose when it comes to preparing a way: not always by the straightest or quickest path, but by the way that reveals God’s glory and includes the most unlikely candidates. By the end of this second scene, all who have heard the story are asking, “What then will this child become?” For, as the storyteller makes clear, “the hand of the Lord was with him.” Yes, God has a way of preparing a way!

Zechariah speaks — and sings

If Elizabeth has gone from barren to fruitful by the end of our passage, Zechariah has gone from a mute to a Mozart! Once Zechariah’s tongue is freed, he launches into one of the most inspired songs in Scripture, named the Benedictus (after the opening phrase, “Blessed be,” in Luke 1:68). This song moves from the promise of a baby, born to this couple, to the raising up of a “mighty savior” (verse 69). This song makes clear the vocation of John, as a “prophet of the Most High” who will “go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” It ends with a crescendo that describes the “tender mercy” of God breaking upon those sitting in darkness to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” Yes, this is a story of God’s exceptional choice, given birth by an extraordinary couple — working together with one another, and with God.

For discussion:

What’s the biggest miracle in Luke’s first chapter?

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