The Church Gathered, The Church Scattered 3

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Jesus the Sent One

 

Like the first sprout of a beautiful tulip emerging from the dark, cold days of winter, God’s story of blessing pokes out of the ground again. After waiting years to be selected for ser­vice in the temple burning incense, Zechariah is chosen and while serving in the temple he receives an angelic visit:

 

An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the ­people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righ­teousto make ready a ­people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:1117)

 

Elizabeth does indeed become pregnant. She expresses her hope with a word of praise, giving glory to God: “The Lord has done this for me ... In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the ­people” (Luke 1:25).

 

While Zechariah and Elizabeth feel the winds of hope, a young woman named Mary is also awakened from her mundane life by an angel, who startles her with these words, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Visits from angels are amazing enough, but add to that the fact that God has been virtually silent for three hundred years and you can begin to understand why this blessing would have been a paralyzingly beautiful thing to hear.

 

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name ­Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:2933)

 

Mary is given the incredible news that God has not abandoned his ­people. In fact, though Mary doesn’t fully understand it yet, God is about to do something no one could have anticipated. But that’s not what I want to point out. What I want you to notice about both of these angelic encounters is how Mary and Zechariah respond to the news they receive from God.

 

Mary hears of God’s favor on Elizabeth and heads to Judea to celebrate. Note how she receives this promise of God’s work in the context of his promise to Abraham.

 

And Mary said:

 

“My soul glorifies the Lord

               and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

               of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

               for the Mighty One has done great things for me

               holy is his name ...

He has helped his servant Israel,

               remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

               even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:4255)

 

Mary naturally and easily references the original blessing God promised to the whole world through Abraham.

 

The same blessing is also referenced by Zechariah in his great prayer of thanks to God:

 

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

               because he has come and has redeemed his ­people.

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us

               in the house of his servant David

(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),

salvation from our enemies

               and from the hand of all who hate us

to show mercy to our fathers

               and to remember his holy covenant,

               the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,

               and to enable us to serve him without fear

               in holiness and righ­teous­ness before him all our days.       (Luke 1:6875)

 

Are you beginning to see how these stories fit together? God’s plan to bless, reach, include, adopt, reclaim, and redeem has not been abandoned or forgotten. It is about to touch down in every neighborhood, village, and town.

 

God’s plan of redemption picks up steam now. John, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, announces that ­Jesus (Mary’s promised son) is the Lamb of God, the one who will eventually die so that the hearts of men and women can be cleansed and renewed and God’s heavenly blessing of abundant life will once again cut through the black veil of evil, injustice, poverty, pain, and prejudice.

 

­Jesus appears in the midst of Israel announcing God’s sovereign reign over the world. He calls God’s reign “the