"Many of the sons of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God"

An Advent meditation by Jeanne Kun

Scripture:  Luke 1:5-25

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechari'ah, of the division of Abi'jah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechari'ah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechari'ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you  shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; 15 for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli'jah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."

18 And Zechari'ah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." 19 And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time." 21 And the people were waiting for Zechari'ah, and they wondered at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he made signs to them and remained dumb. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, 25 "Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men."

Meditation:  The previous reading from Malachi (chapters three and four) came toward the end of the period of Old Testament prophecy.  Silence ensued for several hundred years, during which Israel struggled to preserve her identity and integrity as God's chosen nation.  Foreign powers overran her time and time again, and Israel herself fell away from her God and returned repeatedly, in a cycle of rebellious idolatry and repentance.  Yet hope remained; the people did not give up longing for the Messiah God had promised to send them.  It was into this setting that God chose to send John the Baptist, to unfold the next phase of his plan for Israel's redemption.

 John is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments, the messenger sent "in the spirit and power of Elijah...to prepare for the Lord a people well-disposed" (Mal. 3:23-24; Luke 1:17).  What great responsibility and privilege God entrusted to John as his messenger: "Many of the sons of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God" (verse 16).

 The angel's announcement to Zechariah of John's coming birth recalls many Old Testament figures similarly blessed by God.  John, like Isaac (Gen. 18:9-15), Samson (Judg. 13:2-25), and Samuel (1 Sam. 1), was born to a good woman who had not been able to have children but who had placed her hopes for a child in God's hands.  We can clearly see God's merciful and compassionate intervention in individual human lives as he moved into place the essential elements of his universal plan of salvation.

For reflection:  Imagine Zechariah's confusion when he received God's word.  How do you respond when you do not understand God's action in your life?

Prayer starter:  Lord, give me the courage and strength to admit my sins and repent of them.  Fill me with your Holy Spirit as you filled John,  that I might keep my heart fixed on you.

This meditation originally appeared in God's Word Today,
Volume (13), Number (12), December 1991, published by The University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN.

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