Luke 2 is the go-to scripture for Christmas sermons. The complete nativity cast is there — Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels. The words of the familiar narrative practically roll off the tongue. But Luke begins his gospel with eighty verses of backstory that is full of really good stuff that I almost missed. Thankfully, PB preached on Luke 1 last Sunday, opening my eyes to the fact that there is a prequel to the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. I’m going to linger in Luke’s first chapter awhile and see what led up to the good news of great joy.
God didn’t just jump into the world unannounced. He provided the whole backstory starting with creation. And then, as time was drawing close for the big arrival, He sent an opening act to get the world ready. Luke’s account begins with an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zech was a priest who spent his life serving God with dedication and excellence; Elizabeth was not able to have children. That was their story, which tells me some things about them.
1) Just because Zechariah committed himself to a life of ministry didn’t mean all his prayers were answered.
2) When his prayers didn’t get answered, Zech didn’t quit his devoted service to God.
3) Zechariah and Elizabeth had a love strong enough to withstand disappointment and heartache.
4) Zechariah knew how to wait. He was an old man before he was finally picked to enter the holy place for the burning of incense, but that didn’t make him jealous or bitter.
5) This lovely couple thought they were obscure and insignificant, however, they didn’t know what was about to happen.
We all have a backstory. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know much about each other’s journey. We jump into people’s lives without the benefit of knowing what has led up to that moment in time. Having some background would help explain some things. For instance, that person sitting next to you in the pew wiping away silent tears? She’s afraid her marriage is crumbling. The guy who seems kind of grumpy? He hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a week. The irritating kid in your class who seems so arrogant? Things at home are out of control and he’s feeling insecure. The reason you can’t seem to break through the walls around your friend? She’s learned to protect herself from potential pain.
The thing is — our backstories may explain us, but they don’t define us.
And by the grace of God…..
there’s also a forward-story.