57 When Elizabeth’s son was born, 58 her neighbours and relatives heard how kind the Lord had been to her, and they too were glad.
59 Eight days later they did for the child what the Law of Moses commands.
A Physical God
We were down in North Carolina this summer at a Christian festival that we love as a family, called Wild Goose. I had gotten sick … with something … and the medic had sent me off to the hospital to make sure I was okay. The second full day of a three-day festival had been spent sick and sitting in an emergency room, followed by a reaction to the medication they had given me that left me in bed for another several hours. I was upset and frustrated by the time I was finally able to get up and move around the festival again at 9:00 that night.
And then I met up with someone. I told them a bit of what had happened that day, and they offered to pray for me. Then, in the midst of their prayer they said, “I feel that God wants me to tell you something – He loves your body.” I was completely unprepared for the sense of relief and feeling of love I experienced in that moment. But it turns out that we have a physical God, who created our physical bodies, and loves our physical bodies, and came to earth in a physical body.
Our passage illustrates this point: our God is a physical God, who works in and through our physical bodies and uses our physical bodies to remind us of who He is, and what He has promised.
Physical Promise, Physically Fulfilled
Elizabeth’s son was not born through any miraculous means. That she conceived was miraculous, yes, but I’m pretty sure the birth was not, because I think we would have heard about it if the baby was teleported out of her belly! That means that the only option for aging Elizabeth was a drug-free vaginal birth. For those of you who haven’t experienced this first-hand, that “Elizabeth’s son was born” means that Elizabeth spent hours, or maybe even days, sweating, in pain, with fluids, mess, tears running down her cheeks, expending enormous effort to the point where exhaustion took over and finally, after all that, the work of pushing and a baby’s birth.
We have no reason to think that this was easy. Older first time mamas today still frequently find their first-born children challenging to birth, even with all of our modern medical knowledge. Back in the day, the fact that Elizabeth and the baby were both alive at the end of it is cause for her neighbours and relatives to think that the Lord was kind to her. God worked through Elizabeth’s physical reality to bring about the fulfillment of the promise He made to Zechariah in the Temple all those months before.
Physical Promise, Physically Recorded
“Eight days later they did for the child what the Law of Moses commands.” That’s polite speak for “they circumcised him.” Our current and personal preferences or choices aside, the original practice of circumcision dates back all the way to Abraham, in the book of Genesis, where God tells Abraham that he and his children and his slaves and their children should all be circumcised as a sign that they are God’s people, and they should continue to do this as a sign of God’s promise to Abraham – to whom God had shown up with a son in his old age. (See Genesis 17).
This God-Showing-Up, this God-All-Powerful, is the God who shows up again with John’s birth. The Jewish people therefore had a very tangible sign that God would show up powerfully in their lives – a sign that was passed from generation to generation. Every time a mother cleaned her son, every time a boy or man relieved himself, there was this built-in reminder that God cared – even in the midst of the most every day of activities – and that God was the type of God to show up “in the flesh”. God’s promise was carved into the physical reality of Elizabeth’s son and all Jewish males at circumcision.
Physical People Who Quickly Forget
And this matters for two reasons. The first is that God knows that we are physical beings, and that without something concrete and tangible in our reality to hold on to, we will quickly forgot God’s promises. It also matters because the God who wants to enter in to your story and mine doesn’t just want to enter in to our ‘spirit’ or our ‘soul’ or our ‘heart’. The book of Luke is clear: this God-All-Powerful, this God-Who-Shows-Up, wants to enter in to and work through our physical reality to bring about the fulfillment of these promises.
Some at Vox have tattoos that are a reminder of God’s promises to them every time they look at them. Some have something like a holding cross that they like to hold onto when they pray. Some pray best when they’re running or doing yoga or sitting in a specific chair. Last week the Mudders for Mothers Team ran the physically demanding Tough Mudder as part of raising funds for the physically demanding task of providing physical, tangible housing for women and children fleeing abuse. And then Christina got a Tough Mudder tattoo to remind herself that she is physically capable of far more than she had ever given herself credit for! All this physicality is part of how God-All-Powerful reminds us of His promises, and it’s part of how God-Showing-Up is showing up in our world to take brokenness and transform it into Shalom.
- Paul tells us later on in the New Testament that we don’t have to be circumcised to follow Jesus. But the idea of a tangible reminder of God’s promises is still a good one, I think. Do you have any physical or tangible reminders of God’s promises for you? If you do, what are they? If you don’t, do you need to consider what might be an appropriate reminder for you?
- Do you have any physical or tangible practices that you regularly engage in that help you to connect to God? If you do, what are they? If you don’t, do you need to consider what practices might help you to physically connect to God?
- Are there any physical or tangible ways in which you see God-Shows-Up showing up in or through you? If not, is there a tangible way in which you could help to make the world a little less broken this week? (If you’re short on ideas, email us and we’ll help connect you with someone that needs something at Vox this week!)
You can find more studies in the book of Luke on our website here.