Christmas Music 2: Zechariah’s Song
Luke 1:67-79 12/16/18
When I was a little kid, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to get here. It seemed like the days dragged by, one by one, and the anticipation built to where I practically couldn’t stand it. Now...well, today, I thought, “Holy cow, it’s just over a week away!” It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it. As we continue our “Christmas Music” series, today we’ll consider that God has been planning for Christmas for a very long time and for a very serious reason.
Last week we looked at Mary’s song, called “The Magnificat,” which she sang after her elder cousin Elizabeth acknowledged the Savior in her womb. Today we will look at Zechariah’s song, called, “The Benedictus,” which is Latin for “praise be.” Zechariah was Elizabeth’s husband. God would give the two of them in their golden years a miracle baby, John the Baptist.
Zechariah’s story is interesting. You’ll find it earlier in Luke chapter 1. Zechariah was a priest who had been chosen to offer up the nightly prayer at the Temple. This was a once-in-a-lifetime honor. While there, Zechariah met an unexpected guest, an angel, who scared him out of his wits. When he settled down, the angel told him he and Elizabeth would have a miracle son in their old age. They were to name him “John,” and he would be like Elijah, a great prophet and forerunner of the Messiah. When Zechariah doubted, the angel took away his voice. And so he stayed speechless for all the months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. After the baby had been born and neighbors in the house asked what they would name him, Zechariah wrote down the words, “His name is John.” Immediately he could talk again. And out came today’s scripture, a Holy Spirit-inspired song!
I have two closely related thoughts from today’s passage, and I’ll ask you to fill in the blanks on your outline. First,
1. God has always had Christmas on his mind.
Why do I believe this? Well, like Mary, Zechariah uses a variety of Old Testament scriptures in his song. That was his Bible then, and he had months to study it while he couldn’t talk. Plus, he and his wife Elizabeth were strong believers, so they knew the scriptures through and through.
Some of the Benedictus is about Zecharias’ and Elizabeth’s son, the forerunner of the Messiah. But most is about the Messiah himself, a Savior to be born. Look what Zechariah says about God, in verses 69 and 70: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago).”
I told you last week that there are some 300 Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah. And here Zechariah repeats one, that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah. We know he’s not talking about his son John here, because both Zechariah and Elizabeth came from the priestly tribe of Levi. But Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, which was also the family line of King David.
Did you catch that last phrase from verse 70? “As he said through his holy prophets of long ago.” God planned for Jesus’ arrival a long time ago! How long ago? Verse 73 tells us Jesus’ coming is the fulfillment of the oath sworn to Father Abraham. Back in Genesis chapter 15, God promised Abraham he would make him into a nation, a people of God, even though Abraham and Sarah at the time had no kids. So maybe God planned Christmas then?
But let’s keep going back. As long as people have been sinning, we have needed a Savior. So you might go back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, who brought sin into the world. In the third chapter of the Bible, Genesis 3:15, God promised the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” On practically page 1 of the Bible God promises that Jesus will crush the head of Satan.
But actually, we could go back even farther than that, because nothing catches God by surprise. He knew we would need a Savior from even before creation. Listen to 1 Peter 1:18-20:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world...” (1 Peter 1:18-20)
God chose his son to be the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sins, even before the creation of the world! That’s advanced planning. God has had Christmas on his mind for a long time!
Which makes me think about one recent Christmas memory. In the Haynes household, we have a Christmas Eve tradition where we let the kids (and now the grandkids) each open an ornament. It’s kind of a warm-up for Christmas morning and all the gifts. One day we were doing some spring cleaning, and we found some ornaments we had never given out the Christmas before. We had bought them early in the year, hid them away, and completely forgot about them, giving out others instead! For us, thinking ahead doesn’t always pay off.
But God plans way ahead. He has always had Christmas on his mind. And there’s one other truth that’s very close to this truth. You’ll find it in Zechariah’s song as well. And it goes like this:
2. God has always had you on his mind.
Yes, Jesus is the “reason for the season,” but the reason for the reason is you. God...loves...you! Consider it. With all your obstinacy, with all your ugliness, with all your selfishness, God...still...loves...you! Someone once said, “God loves you, and there ain’t a thing you can do about it!”
You see, God spells out the purpose of Christmas in one long sentence in verses 77-79:
“...to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (vv. 77-79)
These verses contain a lot of rich words for Jesus and what he does for us. His fore-runner, John the Baptist, would give the “knowledge of salvation.” John and other spokespeople for God explain that our salvation comes through the “forgiveness of sins.” There is no other way to God except through Jesus, and the forgiveness he purchased for us on the cross.
And it’s all because of the “tender mercy of our God.” What a sweet description of our Heavenly Father. And then Zechariah talks about this “rising sun.” Your Bible may say “Dayspring.” The word in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, also translates into a root or branch springing forth in growth. All of these are rich Old Testament words for the Messiah. I like “rising sun” the best. It’s a past-time at our house, to watch that sun peek above the horizon. First, there’s just the slightest yellowish-orange tint across the clouds. Then, it deepens to a rich full orange, almost like a farm fresh egg yolk, and then the sun comes up above the horizon in all its glorious radiance, to the point that you can’t even look at it anymore.
That’s the way it is with Jesus. His glory is going to blind us. When we get to heaven, we’ll get rich suntans from being in his presence, but with no skin cancer! Look at what his light does. Verse 79 says it shines “on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Christmas is all about light coming into this dark world, this world of death and despair and hatred and violence. Jesus guides us into that peaceful relationship with God and others, where all is right with the world.
Christmas is all about Christ. And Christ is all about you! Will you accept his free gift of salvation? Will you allow his light to shine through you to make this world just a little bit brighter? Let’s pray about it together:
Thank you, Father, that you sent an angel to visit old Zechariah and turn his world upside down. Thank you that through his son, John, our world would learn that the Messiah had come. Thank you that you thought of Christmas a long time ago. And that you did it for us. Help each person here accept the greatest present of all: Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and rose again victorious over sin and death forever, so that we could be forgiven and be accepted fully into your family. We pray this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.
For welcome time:
After being away on business for a week before Christmas, Tom thought it would be nice to bring his wife a little gift.
“How about some perfume?” he asked the cosmetics clerk.
She showed him a bottle costing $50.
“That’s a bit much,” said Tom, so she returned with a smaller bottle for $30.
“That’s still quite a bit,” Tom groused.
Growing disgusted, the clerk brought out a tiny $15 bottle.
Tom grew agitated, “What I mean,” he said, “is I’d like to see something real cheap.”
So the clerk handed him a mirror.