November is sometimes the month of the Church’s new year, as Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas day – this year that’s 28 November. It’s a time Dr Lindsey Hall finds always brings joy.
Just recently, a very senior priest, well-loved and well-respected was given a great honour and asked to perform a very important aspect of worship in a significant service. As he did this, he was surrounded by people praying, and it was an incredibly special moment. He felt God speak to him and the word he was given was that his prayers were heard. He was overwhelmed by this and wondered if it could possibly be true. There was one thing in particular that he had been praying about for years. He believed that God heard his prayer, but was reconciled to the idea that God was giving him a different answer than the one he really wanted. He and his wife had been hoping for a child for years, but whilst all their friends had started families, it never happened for them, and he didn’t believe it would happen now. But that was the word he heard God say to him: your wife will have a child.
Well, that’s not quite all true; it wasn’t just recently, it was 2000 years ago. This is the story with which the evangelist Luke begins his account of the Good News of Jesus. He tells about Zechariah and Elizabeth, faithful believers who experience a much-hoped for miracle. But that is only the intro! The story that unfolds includes many more surprising acts of God with the birth of Jesus to a young, unmarried woman. A birth celebrated by shepherds and angels. And it’s a story that just gets better and better! Luke’s is a Gospel of joy! From the angel who proclaims the good news of great joy for all the people in chapter 2, to the rejoicing over finding the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son in chapter 15 to the two disciples who after encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus return to Jerusalem with great joy in chapter 24, joy abounds in this gospel.
From the beginning of Advent, the lectionary will give us passages from Luke most Sunday mornings for the next year. Like each of the four gospels, Luke has its own distinctive feel and way of sharing the Jesus-story. Luke’s joyful sharing seeks to capture the way lives were changed by Jesus, the way in which outsiders were included, the extravagance of God’s love shown in Christ and the way in which with Jesus, riches way beyond money can be received. These aren’t one offs that happened long ago, but are an invitation to each of us to receive the good news of Jesus and all that means. As you hear passages from Luke over the coming year, remember Zechariah, surprised by God all over again, and listen for the angels proclaiming good news of great joy for all people.
Dr Lindsey Hall
diocesan Shaping for Mission enabler