The people who heard the first Christmas announcement weren’t the shepherds, keeping watch in their fields at night. It was Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives in the rural Judean hill country. This Sunday (20 December 2020), in my congregation’s fourth Advent sermon (Luke 1:57-80), Zechariah tells us the first Christmas story.
I’ve supplied my own translation of the entire text, along with translations of some cross-references from Luke 1 that are important to understand the story.
Why the focus on Elizabeth and their baby? Because they were an elderly couple who never had children; a righteous and ordinary couple (Lk 1:6). Not simple as in “stupid” or “blue-collar.” But, “simple” as in honest and good people. Luke tells us what happens when Zechariah goes into the temple to perform his duties:
But the angel said to him,
Zechariah! Don’t be afraid, because your prayer has been heard, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son for you and you will call his name ‘John.’
And the boy will be a joy and a great delight to you, and many people will rejoice because of his birth
For he will be mighty in the Lord’s eyes, so he will never drink wine or strong drink. Instead, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit—even from his mother’s womb!
And he will turn back many children of Israel, to the Lord their God
And he will go forth before the Lord comes, with Elijah’s spirit and power
to turn back the father’s hearts to their children, and the disobedient to a righteous way of thinking—to prepare people to be ready for the Lord!”
Now, Luke tells us what happened with Elizabeth after this:
Now after those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself hidden away for five months. “Look what the Lord has done for me!” she would say. “These past months, He cared enough about me to remove my public shame!”
This is the great account of John’s birth, and Zechariah’s prophesy:
Now, the time came for this woman Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. Then the neighbors, along with her relatives, heard that the Lord had shown such wonderful mercy to her, and they were rejoicing with her.
And it happened that, on the eighth day, they came to circumcise the boy and they were calling him after the name of his father, Zechariah. Then the mother spoke up and said, “No, instead he must be called John!”
And they said to her, “There isn’t anybody from your family who is called that name!” Then they were signaling to the boy’s father to find out what he wanted him to be called.
And he asked for a little writing tablet and wrote, saying “His name is John!” And they were all amazed.
Then, immediately, Zechariah’s mouth was opened along with his tongue and he began to speak, praising God over and over.
And fear came upon all who lived near them, and throughout the whole Judean hill country this event was being discussed by everyone. And all the people who heard this stored it in their hearts, saying “So, what will this child be!? It’s obvious the Lord’s hand is with the boy!”
And Zechariah his father was filled by the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying
Praise to the God of Israel, who is Lord! Because he came to help, and has now rescued His people.
And He’s raised up for us a mighty salvation, through the family of David, His Son
Just as he promised by the mouths of His holy prophets, so long ago: ‘Rescue from our enemies and from the power of all who hate us!’
To show mercy to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant —
the oath that He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us deliverance from the power of enemies
so we can serve Him in His presence without fear, in a holy and righteous way, all the days of our lives.
And now you, my son, will be called a prophet of the most high, because you will lead the way before the Lord’s arrival, to prepare His path
To grant knowledge of salvation to His people, through the forgiveness of their crimes
Because of our God’s compassionate mercy, the rising light from on high will come to help us!
To shine light upon those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet onto the peaceful path.
So, the boy kept growing and becoming strong in spiritual things, and he stayed in the wilderness until the day he revealed Himself to the people of Israel.
Here is the sermon: