January 7–13: Matthew 1; Luke 1
In this week’s material, we’ll study the story of Elisabeth and Zacharias, Mary’s call as the mother of the Savior, and the genealogy of Jesus.
“The Chronicles of Zacharias and Elisabeth: Part One of Three, The Angel Comes to the Priest Zacharias,” by S. Kent Brown
When Zacharias goes into the temple to offer incense, he is entering the Sanctuary, which is distinct from the larger temple grounds. The angel “was seen,” indicating seeing in a firsthand, sensory way. Three elements stand out in the angel’s words to this man. The first is embedded in the expression “thy prayer is heard.” The prayer that the angel points to is likely not a prayer for a son. The pronoun is singular and therefore does not include Elisabeth; besides, she is past childbearing. So why pray for a child? Rather, the prayer is one for the redemption of Israel that Zacharias offers in his priestly role as a matter of private but set worship. Hence, the angel is promising the fulfillment of his prayer for Israel’s redemption.
“The Chronicles of Zacharias and Elisabeth: Part Two of Three, Elisabeth,” by S. Kent Brown
The prophecy that John the Baptist would “be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15) signals as much about the spiritual character of Elisabeth as about her infant son. There are hints in this chapter of Elisabeth secluding herself to prepare spiritually for this infant.
“The Chronicles of Zacharias and Elisabeth: Part Three of Three, The Birth of John,” By S. Kent Brown
Luke’s Gospel does not spell out how long Zacharias and Elisabeth wait for the birth of their son following the angel’s announcement. But hints exist that John’s birth occurs the prior October or perhaps late September.
A lot happens on the eighth day after Elisabeth’s baby is born. According to custom, he is named and circumcised in the presence of relatives and friends. According to modern scripture, this tiny boy is also “ordained by the angel of God . . . to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord” (D&C 84:28).
The birth, naming, and angelic ordaining of John mark a lofty point in the infant’s history, for now events become real. First, they point to the firm, almost concrete power of prophecy: John’s birth and naming are uttered beforehand in the words of the angel, and now he is physically here, safely inside his parents’ home (Luke 1:13). Second, they make tangible the warm, miraculous actions of God in this world in the form of a child’s unexpected birth to aging parents—completing their family—and in the sudden, public healing of Zacharias. Third, they embody God’s mercy inside an infant who is both to influence his fellow citizens and “to prepare [the Messiah’s] ways” (Luke 1:76; see D&C 84:28).
“The Chronicles of Mary and Joseph: Part 1 of 4, An Angel Comes to Galilee,” by S. Kent Brown
The report of the angel’s visit also begins to unveil Mary’s notable qualities. In the first instance, she is not bowled over by the angel’s coming. Even in her youth, she maintains her presence of mind because she thinks of the right question to ask at the end of his message: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). Second, the angel’s words “highly favoured . . . [and] blessed” (Luke 1:28) clearly imply both heaven’s regard for this young woman and, just as important, Mary’s maturing respect for heavenly things. Third, she is thoughtful enough to sense an imperative in the angel’s words about Elisabeth that she should visit her older cousin: “thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son” (Luke 1:36). And she acts on that implied command. Last, her final words to the angel, “be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), disclose her anticipation of the challenges ahead, including her fall from her society’s standard of uprightness when people discover her pregnancy and what it will mean to be the mother of God’s son.
“The Chronicles of Mary and Joseph: Part 2 of 4, Mary,” by S. Kent Brown
The earliest recorded prophecy that names Mary as the mother of the Savior comes from Isaiah. Centuries later, in Nazareth, the angel’s appearance to Mary changes everything for her. She goes to her cousin Elisabeth’s home, where Elisabeth welcomes her. Mary’s song in reply (Luke 1:46-55), known as the Magnificat from the first word in the Latin translation, goes beyond the song that Hannah, mother of Samuel, sings. Hannah mainly celebrates God’s exaltation of the low people of the earth, an idea that includes herself and her young son Samuel. In contrast, Mary’s song is chiefly one of redemption, both for her (“[God] that is mighty hath done to me great things”—Luke 1:49) and for others (“his mercy is on them that fear him”—Luke 1:50). The theme of redemption appears even in tiny details. For instance, Mary repeats the words “from henceforth” (Luke 1:48). These become a characteristic expression of Luke that, in most cases, points to Jesus’ redemptive act (Luke 12:52; 22:18, 69; Acts 18:6). Further, in the Septuagint the term “great things” (Luke 1:49), megala in Greek, often refers to God’s actions during the Exodus on behalf of the children of Israel, thus carrying the sense of redemption (LXX Deuteronomy 10:21; 11:7; Judges 2:7).
“Teaching Matthew’s Genealogy (Matt. 1),” by Eric D. Huntsman
Old Testament genealogies, however, served an important function in establishing kinship, confirming a family’s position in the House of Israel, and validating claims to important royal or priestly positions. In that regard, the genealogy that Matthew uses as the beginning of both his Infancy Narrative, and indeed as the beginning of his Gospel, provides an important bridge between the Old and New Testaments.
Matthew had some clear objectives that influenced how he selected and structured the information contained in the genealogy he records.
That this structure of three sections of fourteen is, in fact, more important than some of the list’s details can be seen in the fact that the three periods of time covered by the genealogy actually represent very unequal amounts of time—roughly 750, 400, and 600 years respectively.
“Luke’s Different Genealogy,” by Eric D. Huntsman
The Gospel of Luke provides a genealogy for Jesus that is substantially different from that which Matthew records. Whereas Matthew uses his genealogy to begin his Infancy Narrative, Luke delays listing Jesus’ ancestors until Luke 3:23–38, placing it between Jesus’ baptism and the account of his being tempted in the wilderness. Luke’s genealogy is structurally different, ascending from Jesus “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph” up to Adam, “which was the son of God,” rather than descending from Abraham through David down to Joseph as Matthew’s does. Going all the way back to Adam reflects the wider outlook of Luke, whose Gospel focuses more on the inclusion of the Gentiles in Christ than does Matthew’s.