Here is the link for today’s reading: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=322503705
So I had to look up why the Song of Zechariah is called Benedictus. I found out that in latin, the first word of the song is Benedictus, and thus the name, I guess I was hoping for something more profound. But as I read a few things on this song, it was pointed out that the song is split into two parts.
The first, verse 68-75, they are acknowledging the faithfulness of God to the people of Israel. Remember that Zechariah was a priest. Even though this song parallels the Magnificat of Mary, Zechariah was in a completely different position. If Mary was entirely disenfranchised and an outsider, Zechariah was an insider, but held a kind of false power. He had a position of power in the eyes of his community, but knew that power was actually empty, that Rome had the real power and could destroy them in an instant. This false power was taken away by the time Luke was being written, since most scholars agree that Luke was written after the destruction of the temple and the disbandment of the priesthood (which occurred in 63AD).
The songs of Mary and Zechariah (Magnificat and Benedictus respectably) offer such different viewpoints, not only on the Roman Empire, but also on the ways God can work in the world.
The second section of the song is directed towards the infant John, a powerful vision of hope for his future, Zechariah is placing great confidence in God, that his son will be led to be important in the coming of the true Messiah, even if Zechariah doesn’t understand the exact ways it will happen
- How are the songs of Mary and Zechariah similar, how are they different?
- We are called to use Jesus as a model for living, but in what ways might we also live like John the Baptist, as Zechariah tells him he is “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,to guide our feet into the way of peace”?
- The emotions of Zechariah breakthrough in this text, have you ever felt like Zechariah in this moment, have you ever witnessed this in someone? If so, how?
Census of Quirinius 2:1-5
This is a great opportunity to look at the stark difference between Luke and Matthew’s account of Jesus’ nativity (see Matthew 1:18-2:23). In Matthew’s account, the family started in Bethlehem, fled to Egypt and then settled in Nazareth after returning. Luke’s account announces Jesus’ hometown as Nazareth from the very start, with the census bringing them to Bethlehem. Matthew’s account also includes the murder of the innocents, something Luke never mentions, and Luke includes the nativity of John the Baptist, along with the songs of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon. The tones are also quite different, with Matthew striving to show how the birth fulfilled old testament prophecy, something absent from Luke.
What is interesting is that many scholars have tried to figure out which account is more accurate, and most modern scholars have determined that neither could have been that accurate. No account of sending people to their “hometown” for a census has been found(although some have found records that indicate that at the least, this census was an actual event, even if Luke might have exaggerated on the traveling part). And scholars have been completely unable to make sense of the timeline for the murder of the innocents as found in Matthew since Herod would have died years before when most scholars believe Jesus would have actually been born. On top of this no scholar has found any reliable accounts that the murder of the innocents actually occurred outside of Christian writings, not even any hints, something most scholars believe would be in at least one of the histories of the time. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but there is a chance that Luke and Matthew are taking liberties with their accounts.
I don’t want to speak too much to Matthew at this time, but Luke’s account does do one important thing, even if it is not completely accurate. By naming the emperor calling for the census, Luke is giving us a concrete time frame. Luke is telling us that this whole story that is coming, it is rooted in real world events, it is not sometime pulled out of thin air, but rather something real. This echoes well with the introduction of Luke, stating the intention to provide an accurate and truthful account.
But beyond even providing narrative concreteness, it highlights an important element of Luke’s theology. Christ was a real person, in a real place, at a real time, born of flesh and blood, and yet still the son of God. Luke goes boldly into this paradox, not trying to escape it, or skirt around it, but to make it foundational to his account. This is something to remember as we proceed further and further into Luke, and when you compare it with the other gospels (particularly the gospel of John).
- Why do you think Luke went so far to specify the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth?
- What does it mean to your understanding of the gospels if Luke and Matthew did exaggerate the story of the birth of Jesus, adding (or maybe adjusting) elements for dramatic effect?
- What do you do with gospel accounts that are so drastically different from one another? Do you decide one is right and one is wrong, or that they are both inaccurate, or are their ways to let them sit with each other, despite their differences?
Nativity of Jesus 2:6-7
The image of the manger only exists in Luke. Only in Luke is Jesus described as being wrapped in cloth, of his parents being kept out of the Inn. This only goes to strengthen Luke’s emphasis on the lowliness of his birth, of his absolutely humble beginnings. We are so used to the idea of God doing amazing things on grand scales and in public ways, that its easy to miss the private-ness, almost the loneliness of Jesus’ birth in Luke, the anti-climatic nature of it. Again, this is the God we are presented with in Luke, a God willing to allow his son to be born into a manger, surrounded by only his parents and farm animals.
- What does this tell us about the way God interacts with the world?