Read Luke 1:1-38
Let’s start with Theophilus. Who is he? Is he a historical person or just a persona for everyone who has been called a friend of God.
Yes, it is probably one of those choices.
Luke writes to this individual or to all of us, in either case it makes little difference as we are reading this account regardless of its original intended recipient.
Luke was compelled to make sure there was an orderly account of the most important event in the history of history.
Each gospel is different and the gospel writers had no idea that one day four unique accounts of the good news made flesh and taken into the world by passionate men would also be canonized.
Luke thought that somebody ought to record this in an orderly fashion, verifying and double checking, and just putting that professional touch to the greatest story ever told that you would expect from a professional.
Luke had traveled with Paul to the Gentile world wrote his gospel so that the faithful Jew would have what he needed and the newly saved Gentile might have some inkling of a story of a people he probably didn’t care too much about in the course of his life before Christ.
Luke’s version of this message of life and hope and salvation and love beyond our understanding begins with two messages of life delivered by the Angel Gabriel.
Gabriel made a brief appearance in the Old Testament when God instructed him to help Daniel understand a vision. Luke tells of Gabriel delivering news of the coming of Elijah, whom the world would know as John the Baptist and the coming of the Messiah. The world would know him as Jesus of Nazareth.
Gabriel delivered both messages.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both very old and they were childless. In the culture of the time, this was something of a disgrace for the couple with the majority of the disgrace being born by the woman.
Zechariah was a priest and it was his turn to burn the incense. Imagine showing up for work one day and the boss says, “OK, today we are going to draw staws to see who does what.”
That might be pretty close.
So Zechariah goes in to burn incense and Gabriel, an angel of the Lord appears to him.
Zechariah is afraid and Gabriel says, “Don’t be afraid.”
You have to wonder that if in the angel academy the chief instructor begins by saying if you don’t get anything else right, learn to say, “Fear not.” You are going to use that a bunch.
The angel is standing there by the incense and begins to tell Zechariah some incredible things about the son he will have.
· Your prayer has been heard
· Your wife will give you a son
· He will be a very special son
· Name him John
· He will bring you joy
· He will come in the spirit of Elijah
· He will have a special diet
· He will bring many of God’s Chosen People back to the Lord
· He will precede the Messiah
· He will prepare the way for the Lord himself by calling for repentance
Did you catch what the angel said after he said “don’t be afraid?”
He said, “Your prayer has been heard.” Zechariah had surely been praying in earnest for a son. Despite his apparent prayers, Zechariah asks the angel, “Have you thought this through? I am old man and my wife is no spring chicken either.”
You might think that Zechariah, a priest, might have heard the story of Abraham and Sarah a few hundred times but Luke’s gospel finds him looking for some assurance that the angel is up to the job.
I think the angel’s tone of voice might have grown a bit sterner in his answer:
But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”
Zechariah had obviously been praying for God to give him a son but surely was not prepared for God to answer his prayer.
God’s will won’t be thwarted by this double-minded priest. The Messiah is coming and Zechariah’s son will prepare the way for him.
Zechariah emerged after a long time and had to use hand signals to explain what had happened. When his tour was up, he went home and got his wife pregnant.
Elizabeth stayed home for the first 5 months of her pregnancy.
Gabriel had another stop to make in Nazareth about 6 months after talking with Zechariah.
He began a conversation with a young maiden named Mary and surely used his most non-threatening persona.
“Greetings young lady who God favors so much. The Lord is with you!”
This unsettles Mary a bit so Gabriel goes back to his basic training and says, “Don’t be afraid.”
But Gabriel is bringing a big message to Mary:
· You have found favor with God
· You are going to be pregnant
· You will deliver the child
· You will name him Jesus
· He will be great
· He will be called the Son of the Most High
· The Lord will give him David’s throne
· He will reign over the house of Jacob forever
· His Kingdom will never end
That is a lot for a young girl to take in. When Mary started her day, she might have thought about going to the market. She might have wanted to prepare a meal for her husband to be. She might have prayed to God, but she probably did not expect a visit from one of his angels.
But sure enough, Gabriel is before here and telling her not to be afraid and telling her she will bring the Son of God into this world.
But Mary sees some logistical problems. There is no bun in the oven. She has never been with a man.
Surely she has dreamed that one day she would give Joseph many children, but this young betrothed couple has not jumped the gun on the process.
Gabriel tells here that nothing is impossible for God. He assures her that some impossible things have already become possible in her time. Her relative Elizabeth—yes, old and barren Elizabeth—is now 6 months pregnant.
Mary is surely overwhelmed but not disbelieving. She answers simply, “I am the Lord’s servant. I will be a good servant. I am ready for God’s will to be carried out through me. Lord, I am your servant.”
Sometimes God speaks to us through Holy Scripture.
Sometimes his Spirit speaks directly to ours.
Sometimes we get a very direct answer to our prayers.
Sometimes it seems like we wait a long time for an answer.
And sometimes God sends an angel.
Were the angel Gabriel to appear in our midst this day, he would probably have to say, “Don’t be afraid.”
Our initial reaction to having a being that spends a lot a time in the presence of God manifesting himself a few feet from us would get everyone’s heart rate up a few notches.
Nobody is going to be sitting in their pew thinking, “Man, I thought it was time for children’s church and an angel pops in. Oh well, looks like we will be late to lunch again.”
Nobody would take such an event in stride.
But after the initial shock wore off, how would we respond to his message?
Would we question that God chose to work in our lives in this time and in this way?
Would we be a bit skeptical?
Would we ask this angelic being, “Are you sure that God thought this one through?”
C’mon Gabe, my wife is just too old.
Sir, it takes two to tango and Joseph and I haven’t even slow danced yet.
How many of us would quickly assess what the messenger of the Lord had to say to us and respond, “I am the Lord’s servant. I stand ready to do his will no matter how little I understand about the how part.”
I am the Lord’s servant.
Thy will be done.
I will trust in the Lord and not my own understanding.
In all my ways I will acknowledge him and trust him to take me down the path he has set for me.
I am the Lord’s servant.
I will get out of my box and follow him.
I will depart from my present comfort zone and be the exact part of his plan that he has called me to be.
I am the Lord’s servant. How could I respond any other way?
As a whole, most Christians don’t start the day expecting a visit from the angel Gabriel. Our relationship is one of following Jesus and being led by the Spirit.
It is a good relationship.
It is sufficient for this journey that we call life.
But the author of Hebrews reminds us that angels are still at work. The specific example that he gives involves caring for strangers, aliens, visitors; and he says that sometimes when we have cared for these people, we have entertained angels and did not realize it.
Sometimes God writes his message on stone tablets.
Sometimes it comes in that still, small voice.
Sometimes it is spoken through human messengers.
Sometimes we experience the living and active part of his written word.
Sometimes it is the urging of God’s own Spirit.
And sometimes God sends an angel.
The real message for us in these two encounters with Gabriel is, “How will we respond the message God gives us regardless of how it is delivered?”
My prayer for all who follow Jesus is that we will say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May I fulfill your will just as you have prescribed. I am your servant.”