Looking for the new

As we wait and long for something new, Rev Dr Martin Sutherland reflects on the mercies of God in which we hope and rejoice.


Rev Dr Martin Sutherland is Dean and CEO of the Australian College of Theology. Previously he was Academic Dean at Laidlaw College in Auckland, New Zealand. He has published widely on historical theology and historical method. Martin is married to Yvonne, has three married children and four grandchildren.

Looking for the new

Rev Dr Martin Sutherland reflects on our living hope, anticipation and longing.

Daily Reading Luke 1:67-80

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

This passage brings us to part two of the Elizabeth/Zechariah/John narrative, unique to Luke’s Gospel. Elizabeth gives birth to a child, a longed for but impossible child, a child of miracle. Fittingly, her neighbours put on a party for her.

But there are more surprises yet. The child is a son, so obviously they would be naming him after his father. Elizabeth puts a stop to that, and Zechariah himself stuns them even more, confirming the name by rudimentary text message.

“John” - “God is merciful.”

The clue is in the name.

Zechariah and Elizabeth knew already that these astounding events were about God, not about them. The neighbours start to realise it too. “What then will this child become?”
At last unleashed, Zechariah bursts into song.

On its face, this is a celebration of anticipated victory. At last we will be free. But this confidence too is ultimately about God. A merciful, faithful God, who remembers his promises and takes action. There is an exquisite shift which takes place in this passage. Images of war (defeat of enemies, raising up a mighty saviour) shift to tenderness: the light of God brings comfort to the lost, the dying and the troubled.

All because of the mercy of God.

That’s why John gets his name. The name conveys the essence of his message, of his life, of his mission. John is not the Messiah, but he points to the Messiah and indeed points beyond, to the merciful one who sends.

For the Church, Christmas is too easily hijacked into nostalgia. Too many cute images of animals, a baby, shepherd and stars. But whilst we claim that historical moment as a day unlike any other, the season cannot be allowed to reduce to commemoration alone.

Our faith at this time is to be like Zechariah’s faith. Our expectation, our anticipation, our celebration is because we also look for something new. We look forward in hope, confident because of what He has already done, to new mercies of God.

Darkness remains in the land and the lost still stumble in the shadows. But this is not the final word. By the tender mercy of our God the dawn will break, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

We Are Longing: An Advent series from Common Grace