This year the fourth Sunday in Advent happens to be quite close to Christmas. I think that, more important than that fact, is that the Gospel text for this Sunday [Luke 1:39-45] happens to be quite close to the beginning of this Gospel account. We are never going to get any closer, so I think it is important to talk about it.
The importance of the beginning of a book has become less important recently. With the invention of the outline, the focus of the structure of a book has moved away from the text to a group of words which are separate from the text. When a person is studying an outline, he or she is no longer studying the text.
All four gospel accounts have important beginnings which should be studied thoroughly. The beginnings of other books of the bible should also be studied thoroughly. The beginning of an account not only may help to understand the structure of the account, but it may also point to what is important; those two things are actually connected to each other!
The structure gives the big picture; it gives the reader the reason why the author is writing this work. That reason has unfortunately been somewhat lost when it comes to the gospel accounts. The predominating thought in our century is that there is very little information about Jesus from other sources, so this particular source is meant to give some more information.
The structure of the first four verses of the Gospel according to Luke has a well-known connection, not to the beginning of the book of Acts, the place where one would expect a connection (since both works are by the same writer), but to the so-called Apostolic Decree that is found in Acts 15.
The issue at the Jerusalem Council is one of salvation. How is a person saved? Some people were saying that doing a certain commandment was necessary (Acts 15:5). Peter responds with the wonderful statement that ‘we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus…(15:11).’
Some people are happy when they have more information, but these days, many people seemed to be overwhelmed with more information. True joy comes with salvation. And I hope that message is clear throughout this entire church year.