Wait for it…
TripAdvisor places the Book of Kells higher than the Guinness factory tour for things to do in Dublin. It’s a set of wonderfully illustrated Gospel manuscripts from around AD800. If you were to go to see it, you wouldn’t get to see the gospels themselves straight away. Oh no, you go through an exhibition to prepare yourself for the great treasure. As Tom Wright puts it “By the time you reach the heart of the exhibition, you have already thought your way back to the world of early Celtic Christianity, to the monks who spent years of their lives painstakingly copying out parts of the Bible and lavishly decorating it.”
Luke has done the same here. It’s all about Jesus, but we don’t meet Jesus for 30 verses where his birth is described. Luke wants to prepare our minds and hearts for the great news first. The first paragraph is a long formal sentence, an impressive entrance facade, welcoming us into the beautiful building that is his gospel. That kind of opening sentence is common in the time he wrote – making us aware that this is going to be a well written, well researched piece of work, not a Sun story about Freddie Starr eating a hamster! Others have already written accounts and so Luke has gone back to eyewitnesses to interview them and you will notice with the details he puts in that he has indeed done that.
Roman Historian Colin Hemer wrote of 84 historical facts in the book of Acts (also written by Luke) that can be verified archeologically – some of them were argued about as wrong by scholars until later archeological digs proved him right! – Luke did what he said in v1-4. Hemer’s book is out of print now and a bit (English understatement) expensive. But a summary of those 84 points of historicity is at http://www.gracelifebiblechurch.com/PastorsPen/The%20Incredible%20Accuracy%20of%20Luke.pdf
Luke wrote his gospel between AD60-70 whilst a horrendous uprising and war between the Jews and Romans was occurring which would lead to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. There was a lot of migration, the first generation of Christians were beginning to die out or be martyred and communities were being scattered. So Luke undertook to give us an accurate historical account of Jesus to help us. We are going to find, over the next 25 days, a solid secure basis for our faith in Jesus.
So Luke will get to the incredible story of Mary’s pregnancy, but we need leading in with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are way past childbearing age and are going to finally have a son. I love the humour of Zechariah’s encounter with the angel, mired in half-faith and dogged devotion to duty – he stumbles out of the temple, dumb and looking like he had a vision (think Doc Brown in Back to the Future!), but still completes his time of service! The baby will fulfil prophecy and point to Jesus.
Buckle up and get ready to carry on through to the main story – Jesus!