Dear friends, February 2021
It is a snowy morning, still dark outside, and the temperatures have dipped below zero. But I’m fairly warm here in the courtyard of the Paradise Cafe in Regency where I’m beginning this month’s letter. I will begin with a review of recent ministry activities but most of this letter will be an excerpt of an address I recently gave to a chapel audience at Tabor College. Specifically, I’m sharing with you the portion of that talk dealing with Luke 1:26-45. I think you’ll agree that it makes for a most enlightening and profound pro-life apologetic.
But first that news report. Since last month’s letter with its report and photos of the NEL awards dinner and the NRL Walk for Life, Claire and I have done a lot on our website and the blogs; we have written 20-25 letters and cards; we have taken our pro-life witness to Planned Parenthood, including appeals to abortion clients (and the abortionist herself); we set up two networking meetings with leaders of other pro-life organizations (which went excellent); we continued our weekly activity pages for seniors; and we recorded two Zoom conversations with veteran Christian leaders. And, of course, we have shoveled a lot of snow off our and our neighbors’ driveways and walks!
Just this past week, though, there have been two other developments, both quite exciting for us. One is a long-awaited comeback; the other is a completely new element in our “mercy ministries” to seniors. 1) We have finally started doing live “When Swing Was King” shows. Only a few, it’s true – 4 senior living facilities this month. But it has been a year since the quarantines shut us off from our audiences. So, to finally start back is tremendous news.
And 2) We have been in talks with one of the senior facilities about conducting a live worship service every Sunday afternoon there and, in a couple of weeks, we will begin doing that. The service will involve Bible teaching, music, prayers, the occasional testimony or poem…etc. Furthermore, each service will be recorded and made available to other senior facilities (and individuals) via DVD and YouTube. We’ll have more info on this new ministry in next month’s letter.
Okay, let’s move on to Luke 1. Again, this was part of the talk I gave to an audience at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas on January 25th.
After introductory remarks that included my reference to the strong pro-life position that was part of the school’s mission statement, a few remarks about the history of Vital Signs Ministries, and an entertaining “hook” involving a Tabor graduate who was a success in the NFL back in the 1970s, I went into the primary content of the message. My remarks begin on the next page.
Now, it may well be that you have heard sermons before that present the pro-life applications of Scriptures like Psalm 139, Jeremiah 22, the Decalogue itself, the royal law taught by Jesus, James 2, and many others. But this morning I’d like to examine a text that you may not have connected to the sanctity of human life. In fact, it is a text that we tend to associate with Christmas in that it tells of the annunciation of the virgin birth followed by Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.
It is a lengthy passage but, if you would allow me, I’m going to read it to you. I do so because I want to emphasize how remarkably enlightening and memorable the careful reading of Scripture can be. I’m starting at verse 26 of Luke, chapter 1.
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was very perplexed at this statement, and was pondering what kind of greeting this was.
“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’
“The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth herself has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called infertile is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.
“Now at this time Mary set out and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.’”
Okay, let’s “unpack” this text just a bit, especially noting the timeline and the geography presented here. For instance, verse 26 places the annunciation event in Nazareth, a town in southern Galilee just north of the border of Samaria.
There in Nazareth the angel Gabriel explains to Mary a prophetic event; that is, something that is to come. This is emphasized by the future tense of the verbs in verses 31 and 35: “you will conceive,” “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” and “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Gabriel, of course, is predicting the miracle of the incarnation. But remember it is a coming event; it hasn’t happened yet. However, zero in now on verse 39. “Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah.” Undoubtedly Mary started on this trip to Elizabeth very soon after Gabriel’s visit. Some translations say “at this time.” Others say “immediately.” The Message paraphrase puts it this way, “Mary didn’t waste a minute.” We are also told that she travels there “in a hurry.”
And just where is she headed? She’s going to see Elizabeth, her kinswoman who the angel Gabriel had made reference to. Now, Elizabeth may have been an aunt or a cousin (the Greek word used here doesn’t specify) but clearly she is a relative who Mary loves and trusts and admires. Also, we do not know exactly where Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias were living. The city isn’t named in the text. But we are told it is in the “hill country” which would place it somewhere very near Jerusalem.
Now here’s the deal. The distance between Nazareth and Jerusalem was about 70 miles and so depending on Mary’s mode of travel (walking or using a donkey), this would mean a 4 to 8 day trip. Yet when she arrives, indeed, at the very moment she walks through Elizabeth’s door, we see this incredible scene when the preborn John the Baptist recognizes the presence of the preborn Jesus! Furthermore, the Holy Spirit reveals to Elizabeth that “the fruit of Mary’s womb,” is the Messiah, He Who Elizabeth humbly refers to as “my Lord.”
Do you see the timing the text reveals? In verse 35, up in Nazareth, the angel was prophesying. He was predicting the conception of Jesus as a future event. But here in verse 41, at the very moment Mary enters Elizabeth and Zacharias’ home, she is pregnant. The future tense has now become the present tense. The prophecy of Gabriel has been fulfilled and the Emmanuel moment has begun. Jesus is here!
This, of course, means that the miraculous moment when the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary, resulting in the conception of the child Jesus, occurred sometime after the annunciation but before her arrival at Elizabeth’s. And with that journey – remember, it only lasted from 4 to 8 days – it is very likely that the tiny, tiny body of our Lord had not even implanted in the uterine wall yet!
What an astounding testimony these Scriptures present that human life is a gift of God from the moment of fertilization. And how monumental a revelation that the sanctity of human life needs to be protected at the very earliest stages of the person’s existence.
Of course, this revelation is fully consistent with what we now know from the science of embryology. But this divine testimony came way before mankind’s science knew anything about eggs or sperm, chromosomes or DNA. No, the early church formed its pro-life convictions from the testimony of the Scriptures alone — convictions which have been amazingly clear and strong from the earliest days. Though I don’t have time this morning to give you examples, may I urge you to check out the Vital Signs Ministries website where, among other things, you can find a remarkable list of statements beginning with the Church fathers, through the Reformation, and the present era condemning the sin of abortion (including abortion via poisonous drugs) and infanticide.
Ladies and gentlemen, this Scripture text is only one of many that convinced the early saints to make a passionate, consistent defense of the sanctity of human life an integral part of their mission; that is, to do justice, preach the truth in love, make disciples, and minister both the precepts and the practice of the gospel. These Scriptures present the same charge to you and me today…
I then moved into a few details regarding pro-life ministry for our day and closed with the encouragement of Sam Gamgee’s words to Frodo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that I put in last month’s letter.
So, there you have it. A brief recap. A brief preview of our new ministry of Sunday afternoon church. And a brief excerpt from the Tabor College address. 3 “briefs” that still took me 4 pages to relate!
Until next time, dear friends, please keep us in your prayers. And please know that you remain in our prayers also as well as in our profound thanks for your partnership with us in these challenging days.