In our study of Luke for the Agape Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church, we will be looking at Lesson 2 of the study guide dealing with the announcements of the birth of Jesus and his birth and childhood. The recommended additional reading is from 1 Samuel 1. It may be tempting to skip the Old Testament passage, but you’ll lose part of the background if you do so.
There is always a tension between expectation and fulfillment. Expectation is not always fun. It is easy for our hopes and dreams to fade when we have a time of waiting. This is illustrated repeatedly in scripture as expectation fades to despair. The Israelites as slaves in Egypt have an expectation, but by the time Moses comes along, it is pretty much despair. They don’t want this new upstart leader to rock the boat and possibly make things worse.
But the Bible story always leads to a fulfillment, when expectation meets fulfillment. As we go through the story of Luke we will find that we are left with expectation again at the end of the story. And that is a feature of the Biblical story, the story of God’s interaction with people. Now we expect the second coming, and the temptation is to let expectation to fade.
We’re getting an early start on the Advent season. As is usual in this country, we will start celebrating Christmas early. We can’t wait for it to actually happen. We want to get to the fulfillment. But God calls for–and provides–times of expectation, of waiting.
Luke shares the story of the nativity with Matthew. Mark begins with the proclamation of the kingdom and the baptism of Jesus. John also has no nativity story. John’s focus is on how truly divine Jesus is. While the theology of John is wonderful, the Jesus that John portrays is somehow less approachable and less comprehensible than the one we find in the synoptics.
Luke really gives us more of the young Jesus, the “incomplete” Jesus, if you will, of childhood and youth. He grows in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and other people (Luke 2:52). That is a picture that many of us have trouble keeping in mind, especially in connection with the divine Jesus. How can Jesus, who is God, grow in the favor of God? But that is part of the mystery of the incarnation. We cannot make Jesus less divine in order to keep him human, but we also cannot make him less human in order to keep him divine.
Expectation, waiting, and growth–what a combination!