On Inauguration Day, CNN put together a “photosynyth” – a compilation of thousands of photos taken when President Obama took the oath of office. The completed photo shows the moment from all different perspectives and distances.
Luke’s narrative about Jesus is similar. In oral tradition, events were recounted by people to one another until a composite story emerged. This story was told and retold – using the same words and phrases (like some of your family stories which always use the same words!). This oral account was trusted – people could write anything in books, but a witness (my aunt Hannah was there!) was reliable.
At the time Luke compiled his narrative later in the first century, the message of Jesus has spread beyond the towns and villages where they had taken place. The original witnesses were dying (or scattered by the Roman crackdown in 68-70 AD). Luke researched and compiled the histories to preserve the story.
Notice the historical details in the story – this is something that happened – in history, in the lives of real people. The historic details are there right next to the things that we think of as “supernatural” – angels, prophecies, impossible births. Into the world of ordinary people – a priest doing his duty, a faithful but disappointed old woman, a young girl, shepherds doing their jobs- In the midst of time and space and ordinary people – God breaks in, and transforms the “ordinary” into the place where we meet God. Earth and heaven overlap. The poet George Herbert calls prayer “heaven in ordinarie.” After Luke 1,2 nothing is just ordinary – it is all the place where God has shown up and is showing up.
Notice too, that this is a promised break-in! The chapter is full of references to the ongoing story of which this is the next and greatest chapter – the promise of Elijah (1:17), the promise of a King to sit on David’s throne (1:32,33), the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (1:68-79) and to the whole world (2:29-32). Remember that at this time, God had been silent for 400 years – no word from the Lord, no prophet. In that time they had been overrun and oppressed by one pagan nation after another. The rulers of this world were in power, it seemed. Where was God? Had he abandoned them? Had He given up on them, forgotten his promises? There were some who still hoped and looked for some change, some intervention, who were faithful to what God had told them, who were steeped in His words in the past, who still had faith that He was faithful. And when God did break in – they recognized Him.
Those who watched the 2009 inauguration against the backdrop of another gathering 46 years ago on the Capitol Mall had a fuller understanding of its significance. Those who saw the events in this chapter against the backdrop of Israel’s story understood its cosmic significance. Without that backdrop it would have been not much more than a surprising local story (“Elizabeth is Expecting: Why isn’t Zach Talking?”). Against that backdrop it becomes a story that is personal, national and cosmic. It is the same with our stories!
This I think is the story Luke tells – God breaks in. As you read the book, look for this: when God breaks in, what did that look like? Who are the kinds of characters in the story? What is it that God does when he breaks into the “ordinary” world? What did people expect it to look like? What was surprising – or disconcerting – about it? How do people respond? … How do you respond?
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