Summary: We can't help but sing when we see God's plan of salvation.
Zechariah’s Christmas Chorus
Rev. Brian Bill
[Play a few notes and lyrics from popular Christmas Carols and have people guess the song]
We’re kicking off a seasonal sermon series today by focusing on the very first Christmas carols. The tradition of singing at Christmastime is as old as Christmas itself. We’ll see that the central characters in the Christmas story respond instantly to their part in God’s plan with expressions of praise and worship. All of these original lyrics are recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Here’s an assignment right at the beginning of the message today – read the first two chapters of Luke as many times as you can between now and Christmas.
These four songs, which make up our Christmas concert series, are often known by their Latin titles which are simply taken from the first word or two from the song.
• Today we’ll listen to Zechariah’s Christmas Chorus, known as the Benedictus. I actually worked on pronouncing the first five words of the song in Latin but needed some help so I called two of my Catholic priest friends to help me get it right: Benedictus esto Dominus Deus Israelis. I guess my time as an altar boy in the 60s was not in vain.
• Next week we’ll tune into Mary’s Music, called the Magnificat.
• In two weeks, we’ll worship along with Simeon’s Salvation Song. This has the best title because it’s fun to say: Nunc Dimittis. When I asked Pastor Andy if he knew what this meant he thought it was something from Monty Python!
• And on Christmas Day we’ll hear the Angel’s Alleluia, commonly referred to as the Gloria in Excelsis.
These pieces of prophetic poetry have survived for over 2,000 years. Philip Ryken refers to them as “the last of the Hebrew psalms and the first of the Christian hymns…the gospel is and must be musical…what He has done must be celebrated in song.” For those who know me, the whole idea of a series about songs probably makes you smile because I am not musical at all. While I’ve been listening to Christmas music on my Pandora playlist every day, because I don’t have a good voice, I don’t sing very much.
Earlier this week, when we were doing our Advent reading as a family, the resource we’re using suggested a song for us to sing. None of us recognized the tune and then Becca said, “Daddy, I’ve never heard you sing except at church.” Beth replied, “I think it’s because he doesn’t have a song in his heart.” She was kidding (I hope). She knows that I’m actually too shy to sing most of the time so she said, “Just let your inhibitions go and sing…take a deep breath and belt it out.” To which Becca said, “I don’t want to be here when he does that!” Well, don’t worry. I’m done quoting Latin and I’m not planning to chant or rap the sermon. And I am working on singing more, just not around people I know.
Before we look at the lyrics, let’s go BTM (Behind the Music) for a few minutes to get the back-story on our Christmas composer for today.
Behind the Music
Imagine if we lived without any message from God...no Bible, no preaching, only silence from above. Between the Old and New Testaments God’s people waited four hundred years to hear from Him. On top of that, the gap between earth and heaven seemed insurmountable. During these “silent years,” some of God’s people were holding on to hope, others were stuck in ritual and routine, and still others were not even thinking about God and His promises anymore. King Herod had built idols, immorality was rampant and spiritual life among God’s people had lost its vitality. Kind of sounds like our country today, doesn’t it?
If you’d like to follow along, I’m going to retell the story as found in Luke 1:5-25. A priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth lived during this time of deep darkness and despair. If we could color their lives, it would be gray and gloomy and the sky would be cloudy, much like a dull and dreary December day. They had another silence in their life because they had no children. In that time, to not have a kid was considered a curse. Every couple had hopes that the Messiah would come through them. They felt left out of the loop. Their unmet desires had led to unspoken despair.
Perhaps you’re living with some silent pain right now as you struggle with infertility or with a miscarriage. You are not alone and there are others here at PBC who can help you with your pain. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a son or daughter, or grandchild, or a parent or grandparent or a friend or a sibling. Maybe you wonder how your teenager could turn out to be so rebellious or how your finances went south so quickly or why your marriage ended up in such a mess. Or maybe you’re single and ache to be married. Like Zechariah you’ve been waiting for something to change or for an answer you’re not sure will ever come. Heaven is silent. But then, humiliated and hopeless, Zechariah was about to hear some words that he could hardly believe.