Summary: A great sermon to spice up your Christmas offering. This message looks at the significance of the names Zechariah, Gabriel, Elizabeth and John. Much more interesting than it sounds.
What’s In A Name
Introduction: My name is Marc, the meaning of my name is ‘Mighty Warrior’. My wife’s name is Michelle it means, ‘Like unto the Lord’, Micah’s name is like it, ‘Like unto Jehovah’. Tabitha’s name comes from a story in Acts, depending on which source book you use her name either means, ‘ Like a Gazelle’ or ‘Symbol of Beauty. It’s interesting to look up the meanings of our names, but it is quite telling that the majority of us have no idea what our names mean or even that our names carry some special meaning. To us the idea of knowing what our name means is more a novelty than a necessity. In our North American culture we find ourselves naming our children with names that appeal to our ear. We sound them out and try out the rhythm to see if they fit. Sometimes we name our children after a family relative to honour them, sometimes we reject a name simply because we once knew someone we didn’t like by that name.
But in the Old and New Testaments we encounter a very different culture. The culture of the Jews was such that names were of incredible importance. A name carried more than your identity, it said something about who you were, or what your God was like, or how you were expected to live. Name were not always given to a child at birth, in fact it was not entirely unusual for a child to go for many years without a permanent name. In scripture we even see that God changes the names of certain characters to better define who they were or whom they would become. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham; Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. So we are not out of line when we consider narrative stories in scripture to ask the question, ‘What’s in a name?’
Every year in December we open our Bibles and look at the Christmas story, but it is rare that we have the opportunity to consider the very earliest narrative, the story of the coming of Gabriel to Zechariah and his promise that his wife Elisabeth would bear a son and they would call his name John. But today we will consider this story and the meaning of the names God places on each one of these characters. You will see in this passage that God is faithful to do what he has prophesied and promised, no matter what the odds. Let’s see if we can see the story with new eyes today.
I. Zechariah – Jehovah Will Remember
“It was the time of the morning sacrifice. As the massive Temple-gates slowly swung on their hinges, a three-fold blast from the silver trumpets of the Priests seemed to waken the City, as with the Voice of God, to the life of another day. As its echoes came in the still air… up the slopes of the Upper City, down the busy quarters below, or away to the new suburb beyond, they must, if but for a moment, have brought holier thoughts to all. For, did it not seem to link the present to the past and the future, as with the golden chain of promises that bound the Holy City to the Jerusalem that was above, which in type had already, and in reality would soon descend from heaven? Patriot, saint, or stranger, he could not have heard it unmoved, as thrice the summons from within the Temple-gates rose and fell.” (Edersheim 94)
Within the temple gates the priests were already busy with their task of preparing the temple for worship, and among them an older priest, a quiet and humble man of many years. He was unlike many of the priests in more ways than simply age. While the majority of the priests hailed from Jerusalem or Jericho this elderly man chose to live in the hills of Judea. In modern days he may have been from a place not unlike Creston, he may have driven a beat up old Ford pick-up and tended to a little farm up the side of one of the mountains when he wasn’t on duty. Of the order of Abia, he was certainly one of the oldest priests still serving in the temple.
If you were to see him that day you may have noticed a glint in his eye, perhaps a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, for to him had fallen the great honour and responsibility of burning the incense. In all of his years as a priest the honour had never fallen to him, and he may well have expected that it never would fall to him, as it seemed his lot in life to miss out on special blessing. To be chosen to burn incense was a once in a lifetime privilege for any priest. So honoured was this act that ever afterwards the priests chosen would be referred to as rich.