Unexpected Beginnings

Luke 1:1‑56

Introduction Question
Faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid. Christopher Hitchens

How would you describe your perception of Christianity?

Read Luke 1:1‑4

What strikes you about the way Luke describes his method and his purpose in writing?

Read Luke 1:5‑38

Zechariah is undertaking the most significant duty of his life, praying to God on behalf of the whole people of Israel, and a terrifying angelic messenger appears, promising him an answer to his prayer. A baby being born to parents who are barren or too old (v7) is one of the most common miraculous answers to prayer in the Old Testament, and Gabriel explains that this child will also fulfil specific promises made by God in the most recent prophetic message Israel had received 400 years before (v17, Malachi 4:1-6). The priest responds with flat incredulity and a request for some kind of proof (v18).

Do you think his reaction is surprising? Why or why not?


Once Zechariah has received both a rebuke and the immediate miraculous ‘proof’ he asked for in his sudden muteness, and then undeniable confirmation of the ‘good news’ in Elizabeth’s pregnancy, we turn from Jerusalem and its temple to a nowhere town in the much-maligned north, and to a poor teenage girl (verses 26-38).

What do you make of Mary’s response to the far more shocking announcement that she receives? What similarities and differences do you notice between her and Zechariah?


Considering both the promises given about Jesus’ identity and purpose, and the prospect of her unexplained pregnancy, how do you imagine Mary might have felt about embracing the ‘word’ she has heard in the way she does in verse 38?

Read Luke 1:39‑56

The word ‘blessed’ means truly or ultimately happy, with an emphasis on that being a gift from God.

Here we find Luke’s first portrait of the community formed by believers of the ‘good news’. What strikes you about who they are, how the wider world would have perceived them, and how they respond


How do the themes of Mary’s poem reflect some of what we’ve already seen in these opening events of Luke’s gospel? How do they resonate or clash with what the ‘good news’ about Jesus has done through history, or with your own experience of Christians?

Why does this matter?

Yale law professor and leading black public intellectual Stephen Carter writes that in the contemporary Western world there is “an all-too-frequent weird refusal to acknowledge the demographics of Christianity. … Around the globe, the people most likely to be Christians are women of colour.”

How has Luke’s opening confirmed or altered your perceptions of what Christian ‘belief’ is, who it’s for and what difference it makes?