Malachi and the Women of Luke 1

From today’s reading of Luke 1, John 1:1-14

In reading Luke 1 this time around, I noticed a few things that I’m not sure I had picked up on before (and isn’t that often the way things go when reading the Word. Always alive, always fresh).

Luke 1 is book-ended with the flavor of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi. But the main focus of the chapter is the women. These valiant women, the aged Elizabeth and the young – probably very young – Mary. The Lord gives them a voice while the men in their life are for the most part silent. This is our God, giving voice to the voiceless, strengthening weak hands and feeble hopes, casting down the proud and lifting up the humble, bringing fertility to the barren and removing her reproach.

The chapter starts with the angel Gabriel visiting the priest Zechariah in the temple and describing to him the career of his son, a son who Zechariah thought would never exist.

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 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. – Luke 1:16, 17

Surely Zechariah knew what Holy Writ the angel was referring to. In the very last chapter of the book of Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament canon, God says “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”  – Malachi 4:5-6.

Except there is no “lest I come and and strike”. There will not be utter destruction, at least not yet. Yet the Lord is certainly coming, very soon, and has need of a faithful herald to prepare for him a people.

Zechariah asks what seem, to me, to be some reasonable questions, and is immediately struck mute. He doesn’t get to talk for nine months or even have a say in the naming of his son. But somehow I think he’s OK with this. Elizabeth his wife, who he loves, has been barren her whole life. She is no longer young, and hope probably has faded when it comes to having children. But this problem is small for God. The Lord has need of a faithful herald. In a moment, the Lord removes Elizabeth’s reproach among the people and makes their lifelong dream come true.

I don’t think God needed to do this. Elizabeth didn’t need to be the one to bear John the Baptist. God could have chosen a more practically equipped vessel. But God loves bringing streams in the desert, water out of rocks, much bread out of little bread. He gets a kick out of it. It’s what He is about.

Gabriel, who seems to get many of the best assignments, also gives Mary the good news that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son, and speaks to her this breathtaking promise:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33

Much of the rest of the chapter is devoted to these two women exulting together over this promise and what the Lord has done for them, and will do through them, and will do through their sons. Elizabeth, who Gabriel cheerfully describes as “she who was called barren” is all smiles and shouts of joy and blessings when she meets Mary. And Mary, this young lady, shows her valiant heart as she speaks of her warrior God:

He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Luke 1:51-53

The Lord Jesus came to cast down and to lift up. But He began by casting himself down. The deep dive of humility undertaken by Jesus is breathtaking. He willingly brought himself down from his own mighty throne and took on a very humble estate, patiently waiting for his own exaltation as he accomplished the mission his Father had given him.

Zechariah finally gets his own voice back when John is born. I think being forced to be quiet for so long had gotten Zechariah to thinking over what the angel had told him. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gave full voice to this Malachian blessing to John:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79

It kind of hearkens back to this, doesn’t it?

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.” – Malachi 4:2-3

The sunrise shall visit us from on high, the sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings!

The apostle John later wrote of these things, this way.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:6-14

John wrote about a light that rose on the people in darkness, and births that were not man’s idea but God’s, and belief.

John wrote about seeing Jesus, and in that glimpse seeing all of our dreams come true.

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