Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Investigation & petition - Lk. 1:5-25


"To the Greeks history was . . . a mere concatenation of events which could not be expected to lead anyone to ultimate truth. To the Hebrews history was 'the mighty acts of God,' and God was Lord of history, whose character and purpose could be known only through his acts. . . . If the Hebrews had been given to dramatic production, they would have needed a stage with two levels, on which human events could be transacted in the foreground below, while their heavenly counterpart was represented above and behind." [1]

"These chapters [Lk.1-2] are prophetic not merely because they contain predictions of the births of John and Jesus . . . but also because they epitomize the spirit of expectancy which pervades the whole of the Old Testament. Here in a few picturesque episodes we are reminded of the prophet's faith in the divine control of history, of the priest's daily yearning for the nearer presence of God, of the Nazarite's dedication to utter purity, of the hopes of the kingdom of justice and peace that had collected around the name of David, and of the patient loyalty of humble folk who were waiting for the redemption of Israel." [2]

The two babes, John and Jesus, born because of heaven's intervention, are no ordinary mortals. The world will be different because of their births. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, what small roles major political and religious figures play in these events. The author is not unaware of their presence: Herod is king of Judea, Quirinius is governor of Syria, Augustus is in power in Rome. The story is not about them, however - at least, not yet. The actors are simple folk: an ordinary priest and his aging wife; a young peasant woman, a Jew named Joseph who, like other descendants of the great King David, must now bend to the will of Caesar and pay taxes; shepherds, a despised class in Jewish society; an old man (Simeon); and an aged widow (Anna). Kings and chief priests play no role at all. Jesus' birth is ignored by a world busy with its own affairs; the actual event occurs in an animal stall because there is no room anywhere else. The career of the young king will eventually intersect with those of governors and religious officials, but for now he belongs with the simple and poor." [3]

"The sixfold division of the section [1:5-2:40] consists of three prophecies and three visions. Each vision also includes an angelic prophecy." [4]

"The priests were divided into twenty-four courses, each of which provided in turn priestly service in the temple for one week, twice in the year." [5]

"The incense offering took place twice daily, early morning and mid-afternoon (Ex.30:7f). To be the offering priest was an honor which some priests never received and none were permitted more than once. As the sacrificed animal burned outside, the offering priest poured incense over a live coal on the altar within the Holy Place. As the smoke arose, he prayed some set prayer for the blessing, peace and messianic redemption of Israel . . . Emerging from the building, the priest concluded the service with a benediction upon the assembled people: ''The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: and give thee peace.'" [6]

"As directions are often given in the Bible from the standpoint of a man facing east, this probably means the south side. The angel would then be standing between the altar of incense and the golden candlestick." [7]

"It is remarkable that prayer is not expressly mentioned in the Law as a part of public worship, except in connection with the offering of the first-fruits (Deut.26:15)." [8]

"Her [Elizabeth] words of wonderment echo the experience of Sarah (Gen.21:1) and Rachael (Gen.30:23)." [9]

"The name 'John' ('God has been gracious') is based on the experience of answered prayer, just as the names divinely given in the OT reflect the experience there of God's action (cf. esp. Gen.17:19)." [10]
1. Caird, 47.

2. Caird, 48.

3. Juel, Donald, Luke-Acts: The Promise of History (John Knox Press, 1983), 18-19. Cited hereafter
as Juel.

4. Ellis, 67.

5. Nolland, 26.

6. Ellis, 68-69.

7. Morris, 68.

8. Plummer, 11.

9. Nolland, 36.

10. Nolland, 35.

Father God, forgive me when I doubt you. In the name of Jesus, I pray, have mercy on me whenever I . . .

. . . lose sight of just how remarkably blessed I am now and complain about anything at all.

. . . give up hope in your active presence, blessing and work and just go through the outward motions of faith, all the while feeling a bit hollow on the inside.

. . . fail to rest in the wisdom of your ever-perfect decisions and always exact timing and, instead, insist on seeing things only through the eyes of my own perspective of things and with my gaze fixed on the clock and the calendar on the wall.

. . . trust my past experience, even if it be my whole life's experience, over your work standing before my very eyes.

. . . consider your discipline unjust.

. . . act as if your blessings, though you work them come because of me, rather than how I know they more truly do, in spite of me.

. . . am more concerned about what people think of me or what they say about me than whether I'm pleasing you and serving you.

. . . forget that all good things come from you and come only because you are full of grace and goodness.

Amen. And amen.