December 5, 2012 by jmw
The path of God’s universal salvation is plotted straight through the human being. You, me, and everyone else. The end for which we wait and hope emerges in the midst of our grief here and now. Within concrete, historical grievances, a hope is born that not only mirrors God’s End, but manifests it.
Luke 1:5-25 is the rich story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, two devout Jews who lament their lack of children due to Elizabeths’ barrenness. In the story there is a beautiful weaving together of two different ends: the birth of a child (John) and the universal salvation of God. In the latter case, the nation of Israel longed for liberation from foreign subjugation; a hope that one day the end of exile and diaspora would arrive. The incense (that symbolized prayers of the nation) and the people gathered in prayer (1:10) represent this hope in the story.
The other end, the birth of a child, was the personal hope of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In a culture where children were a sign of blessing, and barrenness was seen as a curse, it is fair to assume that they carried no small amount of grief. But it is precisely this grief that gives birth to the coming salvation of God.
While performing his priestly duty Zechariah is greeted by a messenger who says, “Your prayer has been heard.” (In the Greek the word “your” is singular. Furthermore, the text could be read: “The prayer of you and your wife has been answered.”) At that moment, when the end for which Israel prayed was rising to God in the aromatic smoke of the incense, when thousands of Jews were praying and hoping for liberation, at that moment God’s speaks to one little old man: “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son.”
What is happening here is nothing less than the divine plan of redemption being birthed in the particularity of a single human’s circumstance. Concrete, historical human hopes are woven into God’s salvation narrative. The nation of Israel’s end (hope) is coming in the answered prayer of a childless couple. Zechariah and Elizabeth unknowingly become the answer to their own prayers, the prayers of the people of Israel, and the prayers of the entire world. Through them the salvation of God is coming.
The divine plan of redemption is the human hope born of historical grievances. The End is coming as we hope and wait for the answer to our prayers, as we become the answer to our prayers.