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Hello and welcome to Foundations Daily. My name is Liam; I’m on the staff team here at STC and it’s great to be with you this week as we look at the Bible together.
Last week, my colleague Helen concluded our series of podcasts on Matthew’s Gospel – focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus. This week, we’re going back to much more familiar ground at this time of year as we move into looking at Luke’s Gospel.
The Gospels are Jesus’ story. This week’s readings – all from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel – are the Christmas story. It’s a story many of us are familiar with and yet it’s a story which beneath the tea towels, the tinsel and the twinkly lights is so scandalous, so challenging that it should make us stop and reflect on just how incredible our God is. So thank you for listening this week and let our prayer be that as we consider these famous scriptures again that God would reveal something new, something fresh to us and that we might discover more of Him as we head towards Christmas day in just a couple of weeks’ time.
Today’s passage is Luke 1:1-17 which you can hear in full at the end of this short thought. We’ll focus our attention today on verses 13-14 which I’ll read to us now:
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 call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth
Luke’s Gospel account – an account which we read in the prologue has been carefully and meticulously put together – begins with the angel Gabriel (God’s messenger) visiting Zechariah – a devout man, a priest in the Temple, informing him of the incredible news that he and his wife, despite their advanced years, will have a son whom they will call John. A child who will, as we read later in the passage, play a key role in the fulfilment of God’s promise of sending someone – a prophet who would prepare Israel (God’s people) for the coming of a divine king. This baby boy – John – is the fulfilment of that promise.
The angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that this child will be ‘a joy and a delight’ to them – but also that there will be many others who will ‘rejoice because of his birth’. Joy – this is a word we will see appearing again when we read about the birth of Jesus later on in the week. On this Monday though, let’s begin by reflecting on what the Bible means when it talks about ‘joy’ and how we can experience this each day of our lives.
We often associate this festive season with the word – joy. The word joy’ used in today’s scripture literally translates as ‘God’s grace recognized’. The angel tells Zechariah that he’s going to have a son – despite both he and his wife being so advanced in their years – and not only that but that he’s going to be called John. The Hebrew form of the name John means ‘Yahweh is gracious’. Today’s passage shows us this – God is so gracious, he’s so kind to this elderly faithful couple who have committed to living the God life as best they can. Much like their baby boy will do, their story prepares the way, sets the scene, for an even greater example of God’s grace recognised with the birth of Jesus – the one who, as we heard last week, is King over all, who is our great rescuer.
When we recognise God’s grace in our lives, joy comes into our hearts. Joy as we know is a fruit of the Spirit, a result of God’s saving work – his very presence in our hearts. It’s something God gives us. That’s the nature of God’s grace – it’s His grace, his favour. He chooses us – that’s what brings us joy. But it’s also a choice we make. We can choose to experience joy. And we choose joy when we give thanks. When we give thanks, we recognise God’s grace in our lives – for the simple things, the seemingly everyday things, to the massive breakthroughs – and we receive and know joy. When we choose to give thanks, we’re choosing joy.
It’s fair to say, there’s perhaps not a whole lot of joy in evidence at the moment in our nation. We only have to tune into the news for 5 minutes and get wrapped up in yet more Brexit pandemonium to see that. My wife Jo ran into an elderly lady at the greengrocers the other day who was bemoaning Christmas and having to send out so many presents to her nieces and nephews – that Christmas was so commercial and was for her a lonely season too. For many, this can be the reality of not just this season, but seemingly life.
What is the answer to it all? That every day we, as people who have received and known God’s grace, choose joy – as we give thanks. We read in that famous scripture of 1 Thessalonians 5 that giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will, his desire for our lives. Today’s passage reminds us that the Christmas story is a story of God’s unfailing grace for his people, his commitment, and his faithfulness to us. Let us be people who live in response to that story of grace this day, this week, and this festive season.
God, thank you that the Christmas story is your story, your amazing grace to not just faithful people like Zechariah and Elisabeth- but to all. May we, as people who have received and known your grace, choose joy this day, this week as we give thanks and declare your goodness.
READING: Luke 1:1-17
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshippers were praying outside.
Then 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 call him 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 before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel 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 parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’