This is the third part of my Advent Reflections, looking at the four Gospel openings. First was Matthew who bravely opened with a long list of names (find out why it’s actually fascinating here), and then Mark who ignored the Nativity entirely. Third up: Luke, and it’s about not one mother, but two.
The wrong baby!
Luke begins with a direct address to his reader, Theophilus. This is a more like a foreword, not the proper start of the Gospel, so I’m not focusing on it here.
But then the action starts. We hear the divine announcement of a little boy, that his mother will inexplicably give birth to a son, and that he must be named … John.
What?! John? Isn’t this about Jesus?
Don’t worry though. Jesus’ birth is announced too, just a little later in chapter 1. But, like Matthew, Luke’s Nativity account begins with parts of the story we normally quietly ignore in our Nativity plays and Christmas cards. The actual birth of Jesus doesn’t happen until a bit into chapter 2 of Luke.
So what’s it all about? Why put off the important thing? Well, there’s another important thing!
Christmas is God’s plan
One thing this chapter couldn’t make more clear is that Christmas is God’s plan. It was always his plan for these two boys to be born, one the messiah and the other to point people to the messiah. As you read the story, there are over 40 references and allusions to Old Testament ideas and stories. This is the culmination and climax to everything they were waiting for. Luke 1:37 sees Gabriel say this:
“For no word from God will ever fail.”
If God has decided something will happen, said something will happen, it will happen. There were so many promises of Scripture that seemed a million miles away from happening. But they weren’t. God had them in hand, and He was always going to bring them to completion. They just didn’t know how.
They didn’t catch on straight away, but when they saw what God was doing, they couldn’t control their joy. First Mary (1:46-55), and then Zechariah (1:68-79) break forth in verse, declaring God’s faithfulness to His people and His promises.
It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but Christmas is central to God’s plan for the world.
Saying ‘yes’ to Christmas
But God’s plan being fulfilled isn’t the only thing going on here. We also see people reacting to it. We see Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and in a strange way even John himself (before even being born!) respond to God’s plan in different ways.
Because God chooses to involve people in His plans. He uses a priest, his wife and a young virgin girl to bring about the plans and purposes He always had. The plan isn’t about them, but they are central to it.
They react in a variety of ways. Disbelief. Fear. Confusion. Faith. Obedience.
Mary comes out of the first Christmas looking a lot better than Zechariah. Mary – who is given the scariest message – is confused for sure but reacts almost straight away with faith and acceptance of God’s plan. Zechariah, though, doesn’t believe it can be true and is made mute for a few months till John’s birth. Mary said ‘yes’. Zechariah said ‘no’.
God’s plans are bigger than you and me – we’re part of them but they’re about the whole created order being restored and brought back to God. But God does want to use you and me in that. He has a mission, and He invites us to join with Him in it.
So before we hit the events of Christmas, there’s a decision to make. Even though we don’t know what the plans always are, even though they might be scary or difficult, will we say ‘yes’, or will we waver and say ‘no’?
This Christmas, I’m deciding to try to say ‘yes’.