Weekly Bible Devotional
“Close to Home: Laying the Foundation”
December 10, 2023
In the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, we see the foundation of what is to come. We see how interwoven his story is with Jesus’ origin story. When Zechariah regains his voice, his imagination is also restored. He offers deep praise for God’s tender mercy, and casts a hopeful vision for his own child. He sings blessings into John’s being. This lays the foundation for John’s life. In turn, John will go on to prepare the way for Jesus who will guide us all in the way of peace. In this week, we focus on making space—in our lives and our imaginations—for God’s blessings to break through.
Scripture: Luke 1:57-80
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61 They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Commentary by Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri:
“I will trust the promise. You will carry me safe to shore…”
Of the songs at the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, Rend Collective’s “My Lighthouse” was a favorite. As soon as those first bars of the song were played, the auditorium roared and came alive energized by, I believe, the Holy Spirit. The crowd of mostly young, high school age people burst into song, their hands raised high,
the choreography performed harmoniously, their voices proclaiming, “I will trust the promise. You will carry me safe to shore…” I was moved to tears more than once, blessed by the message their young voices sang with conviction and gusto.
Zechariah’s canticle in Luke 1 had such conviction. Having lost his voice for his initial disbelief, Zechariah regains it just in time to praise God for God’s mercy and to pronounce a blessing, a prophecy, to his son that would set the tone for John’s life and ministry. While the neighbors and relatives gossiped about the miraculous circumstances of John’s birth—circumstances that amazed as much as frightened them—they also worried, wondering, “What then will this child become?” (v. 66). Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit and knowing his son would become the “prophet of the Most High,” (v. 76) spoke words of vision to a newborn that grew strong in spirit and helped lay the foundation into the way of peace. In building God’s kin-dom, let us remember there is power in the words that we speak, to anyone, but especially to our young ones as we lay the foundation for their spiritual homes.
“Your great love will lead me through. You are the peace in my troubled sea…” thousands of young Presbyterians sang these words that summer at the Elliot Music Hall. Claiming those words for their lives, their song also blessed all who heard and joined them. May we cast this vision of kin-dom and bless others with words and acts of love, hope, and mercy. May these words and acts strengthen our collective spirits and guide us all into the way of peace—guide us all home.
- What are the words, blessings, and actions that have laid the foundation for your life? Who helped lay a foundation of faith for you? How are you doing this for others? What are the specific acts that build a foundation of love?
- In his song of praise, Zechariah invokes the memory of God’s liberative actions, proclaims a prophecy for his son’s role in God’s redemption, and offers a blessing to the whole community that, by God’s “tender mercy,” they may be led into the way of peace. If you were to write a benediction following this pattern, what would you say? What actions and events would you evoke? Whose name(s) and authority would you invoke? What blessing would you give?
From the Artist:
by Hannah Garrity
Inspired by Luke 1:57-80 | Paper lace with graphite and watercolor
In this image, Zechariah holds his baby boy. He speaks a blessing, a berakah.
For his neighbors, he answers the question, “What then will this child become?” (v. 66). The intimate love of a father with his newborn son is captured in this pose. Patterns of water pour over John’s little shirt. Zechariah sees what his son will become and begins to speak his future into being from the start. As dawn breaks over Zechariah’s shoulder, his prophecy foretells God coming into the world—of light dawning in weary spaces.
Zechariah relents. God has made Her statement. He could not speak until
he de-centered himself from the story. He gives the name that Elizabeth has been called to give. Zechariah’s willingness to hear the call is the action in this moment. Traditionally, he would give his first born son his own name. His neighbors are shocked by the name he chooses to give, by the prophecy, by his being able to speak again. By removing his own personal and family legacy from the picture, he is truly able to give way to the greater narrative that God is calling him to participate in.
This is an incredible moment of humility. As I created this image, I asked God’s help in identifying where I can step out of the way to forward Her vision for this weary world. She knows. Her work is greater than my legacy.
For Reflection from Pastor Roula Alkhouri:
In this week’s Bible story, we hear about the spiritual foundation of a prophet that became an important part of the foundational story of Jesus. This is the story of John the Baptizer. He was the cousin of Jesus. He was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. Elizabeth was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who helped provide her with a home for three months when she first got pregnant. She was a very important part of Mary’s pregnancy.
The foundation for the birth of Jesus was based on words of blessing. First, the foundational blessing comes from Zechariah. He is a minor figure in the story and yet he lays a strong foundation of blessing for his son John, who grows up to prepare the way for Jesus. Zechariah was an unlikely figure in this story. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were too old to have children. He went into the most sacred part of the temple in Jerusalem and while there, he received a vision that he and his wife were going to have a child. But he was skeptical of this vision. But after several months of silence and prayer, Zechariah finally got it and instead of speaking words of disbelief, he spoke incredible words of blessing. No wonder John grew up to be an incredible man of faith and integrity. The words that girded his life and laid the foundation for his whole identity were words of blessing.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, also received words of blessing from the angel Gabriel as she was beginning her pregnancy. Elizabeth also gave a blessing to her cousin Mary when she was at a scary point of her life. Not only did Elizabeth believe that her cousin was carrying the Christ child, but she also celebrated the news with her and affirmed her soul.
Mary also blessed God in what we now know as the Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55.
So many blessings! The foundation for the lives of John the baptizer and Jesus was that of blessings. Their whole faith was based in people who knew the importance of blessing. There are so many Bible stories about blessing. We are invited to do the same.
We can practice blessing ourselves and others each day so that the foundations of our lives are those of blessing. A blessing is not about everything going our way. It is about recognizing God’s presence in everything, in everyone, and at every moment.
Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them and around them that is not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are.”
Think about the moments and people in your life. All offer opportunities to offer a blessing.
- Waking up – offer a blessing for the day ahead and another day of life.
- Getting ready – gratefulness for a hot shower and blessing on those without clean water. Blessings on the people who maintain the water system providing this resource so conveniently.
- Those we love – imagine each one in the eyes of your heart, asking God to bless them
- Meals – blessing for the farmers, people who transport food across many miles, those working in soup kitchens.
- Strangers – blessings on the homes you pass as you drive or walk or the people you pass by on the streets.
- Those you meet or talk with during the day – silently bless the person right in front of you.
Words for the Beginning:
Poem by Sarah Speed:
If I could give you words
for the very beginning—
for the stretches
and the yawns,
and the opening of eyes,
for the first hiccups,
and the first smiles,
and the first purse of your lips,
I would say,
“Oh, dear child,
how you are loved.”
But the thing about love
is you can’t stop there,
so I would go on to say,
“You are strong,
stronger than you think.
And you are not alone—
look at these parents who adore you
and these doctors and nurses fighting for you.
And you are enough, already enough.
You haven’t done anything yet.
You’ve just been here,
and already, you are enough.
And then I might say,
“This world is a mess,
but it is your home,
and you can make it better,
so always try to make it better.
And maybe most important of all:
there is a love
that is bigger than my understanding,
that moves through this world,
and I call that love God.
And that love is here,
here in this room,
and that love knows
your name by heart.”
Those are the words I would say to you
as you stretch and yawn and open your eyes
on the very first morning
of your very first day.
Let that be your foundation,
like Zechariah did for John.
Let love be your beginning.
Prayer by Sarah Speed:
When John was Born, Zechariah leaned down and whispered words of love into his
ear. We know that you do the same for us, day in and day out, yet we fail to hear it.
We forget that in the beginning we were made good.
We doubt that we could possibly be enough.
We hustle for our self-worth and wear ourselves out aiming for perfection.
We deflect words of praise.
We hide behind shiny first impressions.
Forgive us. Trusting our worth is the hardest job.
Open our ears as you open our hearts,
so that we might rest on the foundation of goodness you have laid for us.
Gratefully we pray, Amen.