Day 19      Luke 1:8-52 ... Breakout

Does any human emotion run as deep as hope? Fairy tales, for example, pass down from generation to generation a belief in the impossibly happy ending, an irrepressible sense that in the end the forces of evil will lose the struggle and the brave and good will somehow triumph.

For the Jews in Palestine 2000 years ago, all hope seemed like a fairy tale. As Middle Eastern empires rose and fell, the tiny nation of Israel could not break free from the domination of greater powers. No prophet had spoken to them in 400 years. At the end of the Old Testament, God was in hiding. He had long threatened to hide his face, and as he did so a dark shadow fell across the planet. This is how one Jewish poet expressed the mood of the times: We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, O God? (Ps. 74:9-10)

For four centuries, the 400 years of God's silence, the Jews waited and wondered. God seemed passive, unconcerned, and deaf to their prayers. Only one hope remained, the ancient promise of a Messiah; on that promise the Jews staked everything. And then something momentous happened. The birth of a baby was announced - a birth unlike any that had come before.

You can catch the excitement just by watching the reactions of people in this chapter. The way Luke tells it, events surrounding Jesus' birth resembled a joy filled musical. Characters crowded into the scene: a white-haired great uncle, an astonished virgin, a tottery old prophetess. They all smiled broadly and, as likely as not, burst into song. Once Mary overcame the shock from seeing an angel, she let loose with a beautiful hymn. Even an unborn cousin kicked for joy inside his mother's womb.

Luke takes care to make direct connections to Old Testament promises of a Messiah; the angel Gabriel even called John the Baptist an "Elijah" sent to prepare the way for the Lord. Clearly, something was brewing on planet earth. Among dreary, defeated villagers in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, something climactically good was breaking out.

Point to Ponder: If an angel appeared to you, would you respond like Zechariah, or like Mary?