Two couples facing insurmountable problems.
That’s how Luke opens his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Specifically, it’s how he prepares us for the advent of the Christ. Luke uses both stories to vividly paint a backdrop for one glorious truth:
Nothing shall be impossible for the Lord.
The first couple was well respected within the religious community. Zechariah was a popular priest, but he served with a limp and with heartache. He and Elizabeth were childless, well past their childbearing years. Perhaps Elizabeth had become bitter, as well.
Then there was a young couple engaged to be married. Mary was a model teen and a great catch for Joseph. They saved themselves for marriage and had big dreams of starting a family. Well before their wedding day Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant. He knew he was not the dude, so he wants to quietly put her away and spare her life. Dashed dreams, cold water splashed all over his ambitions. But there’s more. Let’s add to the mix a dose of insanity: “Don’t worry, Joseph, GOD got me pregnant!” His life as he knew it just went up in smoke.
WHERE IS GOD IN ALL THIS??! Where was God when…my spouse died, I lost my job, my fiancé broke up with me, we can’t have kids, I’m waiting for Mr. Right who is MIA, our home was foreclosed or my marriage denigrates? Or, where is God when people are getting gunned down or blown up, kids are abandoned and sold into slavery, pestilence wipes out thousands, and kids are alone on Christmas because their parents are high as a kite or incarcerated?
Pause for a moment and consider the prophet’s words some 700 years earlier:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows.
Those heartaches and dashed dreams? Jesus would suffer and die for us, bringing healing where we need it most.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The context of these words was Isaiah’s word to Israel as they languished in exile. "God has forgotten us" (how often do we feel that?). But God reminds Israel that He has not forgotten them, and that His love runs deep for them. He is also working a spiritual redemption that will be for the whole world and of an eternal nature. But He did not just "die for our sins" – that’s the Sunday School version. He carried our sorrows and bore our griefs. The two go hand in hand. The latter defines the former.
Let’s go back to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Two different stories, both consisting of overwhelming pain and heartache. Why are they in Luke's advent account? Because this is why Christ came. He would not only bear our sins but he would also bear our sorrows and our griefs. He came to real people with real problems, people like you and me. And how was this all tied together?
Remember what the angel said: I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God. Nothing shall be impossible for the Lord.
God is not distant or aloof. He sent His Son right into our world. He visited our pain and our messiness. He saw our misery and sorrows. Christ was tempted just like we are. He experienced hunger and grief. Jesus came for people like Mary & Joseph, and for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Yes, His entrance was unique (hence, the virgin birth), but don’t forget that their problems were very real.
There is a greater narrative, which is God's unfailing hesed for us - "hesed" is a rich Hebrew word that means God's mercy, love, patience, tenderness, kindness, faithful love…all wrapped together into one word. God demonstrated His hesed for us through identifying with our sorrows and aches as His Son suffered in our place.
Both Mary and Zechariah burst into praise in Luke 1 to declare God’s mighty work of salvation. Of course they do. How could they not, given how powerfully God had just interjected in their lives and showed the world His love? Despite our messes and sorrows, GOD is faithful and loving. HE keeps His word and extends mercy and compassion. He smashes the impossibilities in our lives and provides a way out. We still live in a fallen world, but He is making all things new and replaces our despair with hope and encouragement even when things don’t work out the way we’d like them to.
We’ll develop this more on Sunday when we embark on our journey through Luke’s Gospel: Model Man, Mighty God.
- Pastor Colin