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Surprising the Neighbors: Luke 1.57-66

God has been speaking to the angel Gabriel.  Anticipation is growing.  Here we have the results of what the angel has been promising.  It will surprise quite a few people.  Maybe you’ll surprise your neighbors this year with your dazzling Christmas lights?  Excitement is growing.  There’s a merger that happens this week as we celebrate Thanksgiving and we merge right into Christmas.  How do these holidays relate to each other?  Thanksgiving and Christmas go together.  They complement each other.  Thanksgiving prepares our hearts for the joy in Christmas.

Elizabeth is promised a son and is waiting.  It’s time for these promises to be realized.  Our faith is often personal.  Many people around the world are more community oriented.  When one person celebrates the whole community celebrates!  For example, we’ll have a community Thanksgiving meal here this week for those who may not have a place to celebrate.  In 1621 the colonists landed at Plymouth and one colonist wrote about what happened.  He said, “because of the goodness of God we gather.”  In a community two thousand years ago Elizabeth gives birth to a son and there’s thanksgiving in the community. 

God gives us reasons to be thankful.

                    57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 

The wording here in this verse is not unusual.  It’s familiar because we’ve heard the same thing in Genesis 25:24 when Sarah, Abraham’s wife gives birth to twin sons, Esau and Jacob.  God is fulfilling His promise.  Luke picks this up from Genesis.  The birth of John is a signal.  God is preparing the world for the coming of Jesus.  There’s hope for the future.  Luke introduces this to us.  He ties it together and it’s a new day.  The neighbors hear about the birth of John.  How do you go nine months and the neighbors didn’t hear Elizabeth was pregnant?  People hear she had a son and they’re like, “Wow! How’d this happen?”  For the first five months Elizabeth didn’t tell anyone.  It’s Gabriel that tells her cousin Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant.  There’s generally a protocol you do when you announce you’re pregnant.  You have to be careful to slowly announce a pregnancy.  Elizabeth is way past her childbearing years.  She gives birth and it is announced.  There’s a response from the community and they rejoice with her.  There’s a continual rejoicing, and abiding joy.  This is the joy of celebration.  Just a few months later the shepherds will rejoice.  There are similarities in the births of John and Jesus.  The way the word goes to the community is similar.  God is prompting this in people’s hearts.  People have warmed up to the idea that God is moving among them.  People are used to their routine.  We work hard to organize our lives and when God intervenes sometimes we need a warm-up.  This Christmas, maybe the Holy Spirit can do something remarkable in our lives. There’s a reason for Thanksgiving.  God gives us reasons to be thankful.

We will celebrate Thanksgiving together in a few days.  Usually families share with one another what they’re thankful for.  For those of you who always feel caught off guard being asked at the dinner table what you’re thankful for, I’m giving you a four day warning!  Elizabeth and Mary were thankful for what God was doing in their lives.  They don’t even know what God is doing but God gives us all opportunities to point people to Him.

God provides us with opportunities to point to Him.

                    59And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 
                    And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

63And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 

Zechariah received a message from the angel Gabriel.  He was a priest who had gone into the temple
to pray.  The angel Gabriel shows up and announces that his wife Elizabeth will have a son and they are to name him John.  John will prepare the way for the Lord.  Zechariah is old and he has a lot of doubt that his wife will bear a son.  He was a religious man, close to God.  He is surprised at what God is doing, so if you’ve ever been surprised by what God is doing you are not alone.  His response to Gabriel is that his wife is old.  The angel says it will happen and because of his doubt he’ll be mute until the child is born.  Now, it’s really hard for a preacher not to be able to say anything!  Zechariah cannot even tell anyone why he cannot speak.

Verse sixty has Elizabeth’s response.  Luke is inviting us into the story.  Luke is writing to an audience that isn’t Jewish, like us.  We don’t understand all the Jewish traditions.  In their culture it was normal for the head of household to name the child.  It was time for the child to be named.  There’s a cultural backstory, for example, how we greet one another around the globe isn’t universal.  In Asia you put your hands together and bow to one another.  In India you say, “Namaste.”  Here in the USA we shake hands and we know what to say to greet one another.  Our mission team in Thailand was teaching students of English how we greet one another.  A man asked me why we shake hands.  This is actually a bit strange if you stop and think about it.  I told him I don’t know why we do that.  We just do. 

Luke brings us into this cultural setting and explains the Jewish background.  The naming of a child has a theological significance.  They want to do what God has spoken over this child.  No, his name is John.  Surprise!  This is a strong statement.  People were thinking that nobody in their family was named John.  People are trying to figure out why they’re naming him John.  In verse sixty three Zechariah writes on a tablet.  Tablets were wooden with a wax coating on them.  You’d carve the letters into the wax with your finger.  Zechariah wrote, “His name is John,” on the tablet.  This is a clear statement.  Zechariah will speak afterwards and this is a big moment.  Nine months earlier if Zechariah had listened he could have been telling people his wife was pregnant and the boy’s name will be John.  Zechariah had to wait because he didn’t trust and believe. This is Zechariah’s moment to point people to God.

God gives us these moments too.  Our moments may not be as dramatic as this.  Sometimes we aren’t sure.  Have you ever had a moment when God was saying something to you and you weren't sure if you should share it?  This is Zechariah’s moment.  At Thanksgiving with family, conversation flows and we will have open invitations to share what God is doing…  God gives us opportunities in our everyday lives as we gather together for Thanksgiving.  Share what you’re thankful for.

Thanksgiving leads to Christmas wonder.

Zechariah and Elizabeth can talk about a lot more now.  Their cousin Mary is carrying Jesus and the role their son will have is to prepare the way for Jesus.

People are talking about this and trying to figure out all these things.  The birth of John is so unique.  Verse sixty six has a question about John.  What will he be?  He has a unique role.  Everyone knew he was born with a life of purpose, to prepare the way for Jesus.  God brought him to earth to make much of Jesus.

In John 3:30, John is a popular preacher who baptized many.  He baptized Jesus.  John says Jesus must become greater and he, John, must become less.  This is the switch that happens from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  How many of you are already feeling Christmas stress?  You’re thinking of all the things you have to do and your list is getting longer.  Do not run past Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving begins with what we are here for.  Jesus must increase and John must decrease.  The secret to a great Christmas is that Jesus must increase and I must decrease.  How do we make Christmas great?  Jesus makes Christmas great!  What we do is we point people to Jesus.  God has entered into human space.  Our world is transformed through Jesus.  Let’s make much of Jesus.  This isn’t so easy to do so we have some help for you.  We have some advent devotionals this morning written by our own Season Lahr.  Please take a copy and get started reading.  Let’s take time to build anticipation in our hearts.  What is God doing?  Start with a thankful heart.  Thanks God for sending Jesus for me. Thanks Lord for Your presence.  Let’s prepare for the wonder of Christmas.  Will you pause this week and give thanks?  Can you pray, “God, I want Christmas to be focused on you.”  Lord, I believe in the possibility that You can enter into the lives of my family and friends.  Lord, our nation needs You.  Can we pray God will move in our nation this week as we celebrate?

Sermon Notes are taken, transcribed and posted by Jeni Martin Johnson.


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