Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lk 1:57-2:7

The very religiosity of the gospels should not blind us to the fact that Mary and Elizabeth were relatives; and thus John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were also relatives.  It puts some extra "oomph" into John the Baptist's statement in Jn 1:30-31, where John the Baptist is saying of his own relative Jesus, "After me comes a man ... I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water."  A historian reading these documents for the first time might say, "ah yes, a movement started by perhaps two cousins, one giving way to another."  It has that kind of "things happen all the time like this" feel: relatives who think alike, start movements, all through history.  Fair enough.

But how about Luke?  He documents, in great detail, the theologies of their mothers!  Here it is the 24th day of the year, and we've proceeded already to the call of the disciples and preaching in Galilee in Mk and Jn, but in Luke, we're still thoroughly researching and discovering the background of the mothers involved!  A true historian's heart!

We can take Lk 1:57 in this vein, that Luke is emphasizing the normalcy of what happened to Elizabeth when John the Baptist was born.  These beginnings were not solely for their miracles.  They were historical-miracle stories.  They didn't happen in Oz.  Not everything they did was involving the miraculous and unexplainable.  Elizabeth and Mary, both pregnant: the one who was so miraculously, stayed three months with her relative whose birth was naturally caused: although Luke records that the relatives to Elizabeth were very happy for her, saying the Lord had magnified His mercy toward her (1:58), just like relatives say; although the father had been unable to speak for the last nine months, just like the neighbors say.  After Zecharias's voice returned, the neighbors' say was multiplied (1:65).  And so was Zecharias's (1:67ff.).

Keep in mind, as Luke is writing this, and the readers, including ourselves, are reading this, we already know -- as Mary knew, as Elizabeth knew, having both known together -- that the Lord Jesus was related to them as their Lord.  Elizabeth had surmised this during her pregnancy! -- ("How has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?" she asked in 1:43)-- but Luke is recording the stir regarding John the Baptist, who he'd be.  The gospel of John does this a little bit too.  We've seen that the first player whose historical actions he mentions is John the Baptist, even in the middle of the cosmic language about the Word! (Jn 1:6).  The darkness did not comprehend the light, and a man came, sent from God!  This wasn't a plot device.  Luke, in such a magnificent way, totally independently of John, writes the history, and it sounds like history, not a plot device.  It is the history of the Incarnation, not a plot device.

So did Zecharias really say this, as Luke records in 1:67-79?  Almost as if Luke knew some would ask that question, he prefaces it by saying "and his father Zecharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying ...." (1:67).  No wiggle room.

Why is it that we would demur?  If we invent theories like "priests don't know Greek that well," or "priests don't rhyme" there are lots of  smart bilingual priests, and lots of theology already laid down in the Old Testament as poetry.  But why are we trying to put a lid on what Luke says was unique: "Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied."?    Let the facts clobber your presuppositions, OK?  How otherwise could the excellence of 1:68-79 be explained?  I could be considered out of my mind for saying it this way, but in the middle of the prophecy, Protestantism is prophesied!  Did Luke's eloquence concoct that?  (1:77).  Had Luke already written a systematic theological treatise to explain that the Protestant understanding of salvation being of God alone (1:78) would need to be put into Zechariah's mouth for future generations to see it, or was Zechariah filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, "saying ..." (1:67)? 

If Luke 2:1 reflects an external urgency upon Joseph and Mary to travel during the final days of her expectation of giving birth, this was a different kind of explanation for the location of the major event -- the birth of Christ -- than the announcement to Zecharias, to Mary, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, the birth of John, the loosing of Zecharias's tongue, and his prophecy.  Even the visit of Mary to Elizabeth had a divinely-guided aspect to it (1:36), and some of its detail (1:43).  In other words, things going properly, according to divine announcements and revelation.  Here, the external circumstances show that God is the God over difficulty as well.  It was not easy to travel in the final days of her expectation, and certainly not a feeling of fulfilling prophecy, to travel for a census.   

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