Sunday’s sermon: Old Thing, New Thing, Bold Thing, True Thing

Old Testament New Testament

Text used – Luke 1:5-25, 57-80





  • So, I need your help this morning, y’all. You’re going to help provide the sermon illustration this morning. I have a question for you:
    • What’s a holiday tradition that you cherish? Something that was handed down from family? [ANSWERS]
    • Okay … follow-up to that (and be honest!): Have you tweaked that tradition at all? Have you made any alterations to it – slight or otherwise? [ANSWERS]
    • There are few times of year as steeped in tradition as Christmas, right? We have traditions about how we decorate – when we put up the tree, what ornaments go on, what goes on the top. We have traditions about what we eat – recipes handed down, meals that we replicate from year to year, tastes and smells that transport us immediately back to Christmases past. We have traditions about things that we do and places we go – special days and ways that we shop and wrap gifts, special light displays that we visit and revisit year after year, organizations to which we give our financial support or our time or both. But every so often, a tradition changes, right?
      • New traditions born
      • Old traditions given a bit of an update
      • Doesn’t make the original iteration of the tradition any less meaningful or important → just means that we are growing and changing and making our mark as our families and lives grow and change, too
  • Throughout the fall, we’ve been winding our way through the Old Testament, hearing some of the old stories of our faith. Some were stories we’ve heard before and were hearing again. Some were stories we’d never heard before. Today, we make the shift from Old Testament to New Testament with this story of the pronouncement and birth of John the Baptist. → story that really has a foot in both worlds – OT and NT
    • First part of the story = angel Gabriel bringing news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the impending birth of a new prophet
      • Gabriel to Zechariah in text: He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.[1] — Zechariah’s response = disbelief – flat out asks Gabriel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.”[2] → This first part of the story sounds a lot like another out-of-the-ordinary, amazing birth story that we read back in Sept.[3]
        • Abraham and Sarah camped out under the Oaks of Mamre for the day
        • Visited by 3 strangers → tell Abraham that his wife, Sarah, is going to have a baby
        • Because of her advanced age, Sarah is so disbelieving at this that she laughs
        • 9 mos. later, Isaac is born
        • So even in the beginning of our story for today, we get a story that is old being retold and relived and rewritten by the God who started it all.
          • Scholar picks up on this repetition and its significance: From the very beginning of his Gospel, Luke reminds us of an even earlier beginning, the beginning of the story of God’s relationship with God’s people Israel. … The entire story of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, beginning with the promise to Abraham and Sarah, is coming to fulfillment in this story Luke tells – this story that begins, once again, with a promise and a birth against all odds.[4] → That’s what today’s Scripture reading is all about: God doing an old thing in a new time, a new place, a new way – a way that is bold and world-altering, a way that is true and sacred and holy.
      • Twist on the old story in today’s text = Gabriel’s response (a bit of a holy mic drop) – text: The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”[5] → Maybe it’s crazy, but I find this part of the story just a bit comical. I mean, can’t you just imagine Zechariah’s doubt and disbelief. Can’t you just imagine him saying, “Wait … what now? Is this a joke? How can I be sure of this? How can I be sure this is real? How can I be sure this isn’t a dream? How can I be sure of this?”
        • Gr. “sure” = dense word – layers of knowing (to be struck by something + realize + acknowledge + understand) → This is more than just a shallow, surface understanding. It goes layer upon layer down to a deeper understanding – from that initial, shocking revelation to the dawning of realization to acknowledgment and finally to a deep, foundational understanding. It’s the same way we process any kind of earth-shaking, life-changing news.
          • Story of finding out we were having twins: very first doctor appt/ultrasound → initial inkling = line down the center of the image on the u/s screen → doctor’s words: “Oh, it looks like you’re having twins. Did you know that already?” (How could we know that already?!?!) → understand more fully as she pointed out various images on the screen → finally processing and taking in the information as we waited for blood work following that appt → calling our parents from the lab waiting room and hearing ourselves disbelievingly say, “Ummm, Mom? Yeah, everything’s fine. But there are two of them. Yup. Two of them. Twins.” → It is this deeper, fuller, more comprehensive kind of understanding that Zechariah is asking about, and really, who can blame him, right?
        • Gabriel’s response is a bit “tit for tat” = Zechariah’s protest: “But I am old.” Gabriel’s response: “But I am Gabriel.” – goes on to enumerate not only his credentials as an angel (“I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you.”[6]) but also add a bit of a kick at the end (in an exasperated tone, I imagine) – text: Because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.[7] → And there’s the new twist on the old story. Lucky Sarah who laughed in disbelief and simply got chastised for it. Unlucky Zechariah who asks a question and gets muted for 9 months while he waits for the birth of this truly unbelievable boy.
      • One thing we can’t ignore in this first part of the story = the setting – text: One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. → So Zechariah is a priest who is in the midst of worshipping in the house of the Lord when Gabriel appears to him.
        • Scholar highlights importance of this: Here is a story of a priest who was praying fervently but who was not prepared for his prayers to be answered. He was officiating in the sanctuary itself, but he did not really expect to experience God’s presence. The scene once again challenges us, this time to trust in God expectantly and to be prepared for God’s response to our needs.[8]
    • 2nd part of the story = physical answer to those fervent prayers – birth of this long-awaited child → more old-vs.-new mash-ups
      • Big deal is made of the naming of the child
        • Tradition = name this child after his father
        • BUT both Zechariah and Elizabeth had the words of Gabriel circling in their minds: The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John.”[9]
        • Reads a bit like a church basement ladies skit, doesn’t it?[10]
          • 8 days after birth = circumcision and naming ceremony (called a bris) → nosy-but-well-meaning neighbors and relatives and religious officials (Zechariah’s colleagues, remember) want to name the baby Zechariah
          • Elizabeth tells the nosy-but-well-meaning neighbors and relatives and religious officials, “His name is John.”
          • Assembled crowd can’t believe that she and Zechariah are bucking this time-honored Hebrew tradition (commence the meddling!) – text: They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him.[11]
            • SIDE NOTE: Y’all, this is why so many people I know don’t reveal the names they’ve picked for this children until the ink on the birth certificate has already dried!
          • Zechariah motions for something to write on and reinforces what his wife has already said: “His name is John.”
          • Instant affirmation – text: At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God. All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, “What then will this child be?”[12]
    • 2nd half of the 2nd part of today’s story = Zechariah’s prophecy → Zechariah declaring boldly and truly both the old and constant faithfulness of God and the brilliant newness of the thing that God was about to do – text: Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.[13] → Zechariah seamlessly weaves the old and the new together, speaking simultaneously of what God has done for the people of Israel in the past and what God is about to do, all the while boldly declaring the goodness and mercifulness and steadfast love of God, a truth that rang true throughout the ages … a truth that rings true for us today … a truth that will continue to ring true throughout the ages to come.
      • Love of a God willing to enter into sacred and holy covenant relationship with a people flawed and broken and inconsistent
      • Love of a God willing to reach out to those people again and again through words, through actions, through miracles, through story after story after story
      • Love of a God willing to do the ultimate new thing based on the old love – to be born as one of us: vulnerable and needing, able to laugh and to cry and to love in a whole new way, the same old flesh and bone with a spirit wholly and holy new and bold and true
      • It is this old thing for which we wait. It is this new thing for which we wait. It is this bold thing for which we wait. It is this true thing for which we wait. And hallelujah, friends … the wait is nearly over. Amen.

[1] Lk 1:16-17.

[2] Lk 1:18.

[3] Gen 18:1-15.

[4] Elisabeth Johnson. “Commentary on Luke 1:5-13, [14-25] 57-80” from Working Preaching, Accessed Dec. 22, 2019.

[5] Lk 1:19-20.

[6] Lk 1:19.


[8] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 49 (emphasis added).

[9] Lk 1:13.

[10] Lk 1:57-66.

[11] Lk 1:61-62.

[12] Lk 1:64-66a.

[13] Lk 1:68-79.

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