And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand 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
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Advent is the season set aside for us to celebrate the arrival of Jesus, and look ahead to his second coming. This year, over these four weeks, we have chosen to take a look at the four “songs” of Advent in Luke’s gospel. We will hear the songs of the angels, Mary, a man named Simeon, and today Zechariah.
We read and hear the lyrics of a hymn differently than we do an article or blog post. We process them and experience them differently than a news story or a novel. So, as we examine these songs, may they add depth to our understanding and experience of Advent this year.
Luke’s gospel offers us an “orderly account” of “the things that have been accomplished (fulfilled) among us.” This is a historical account, not just a story. He doesn’t begin with “once upon a time” or “Twas the night before Christmas.” Instead, he writes, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea…”
The song we’re about to look at comes in the middle of this account. It’s the first Christmas song, of the first Christmas! But to really appreciate this song, and the story surrounding it, we need to look back for a moment.
Breaking the Silence
As the Old Testament ends, God’s people are living under Persian rule. The Persians have allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, but only some do. In large part, God’s people are scattered. The Old Testament ends with these words, some of which we will hear on the lips of an angel in a moment:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
With that, we are left waiting.
Four hundred years later, as the New Testament opens, the Persian empire has crumbled. Alexander the Great and his empire have come and gone. Now, the Roman Empire is the political superpower of the world.
This is a significant moment in the history of God’s people. At this point, there hasn’t been a prophet in Israel in 400 years. God’s people are scattered, trying to reconcile their faith in God’s promises of blessing with the realities of life under a string of pagan rulers that seem to continually get worse. God’s people are longing for Him to act, to liberate, and to free them from oppression.
The Backstory (1:5-22)
Luke’s camera zooms in on a couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth: a priest and his wife. “They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” But they are childless and aged.
As Zechariah is serving in the temple, an angel appears to tell him that he and Elizabeth will have a son, John. He will go before the Messiah “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”(v.17) Zechariah doubts, and is left silent and presumably deaf until his birth nine months later.
Zechariah’s Prophecy (1:67-79)
As John comes into the world, Zechariah is finally able to speak again and he utters a faith-filled hymn of praise to God. While a couple lines are directed toward John, this song is about Jesus! The Messiah is on the way! After nine months, the first words that Zechariah speaks—the father of the first prophet in four hundred years—are all about Jesus.
The first half of his prophecy recognizes God’s faithfulness to keep his promise of rescue, deliverance, salvation and redemption. He had promised Abraham. He had spoken through the “prophets of long ago.” And there, as Zechariah holds his miracle baby, God was keeping his promise.
The second part of his prophecy foretells John’s ministry to prepare the way of the Lord. “To give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…”(v.77) A new day was dawning, and John would be like the dawn before the sunrise.
Zechariah had waited a long time to speak, and much more time would pass before his prophecy would be fulfilled. But in this song, we hear a faith rooted in promise-keeping faithfulness of God. In nine months of silence, his doubt has dissipated, and he rejoices in a loving God who keeps his promises!
As we wait for the second advent of Christ, there are times that we feel that God is silent. There are times that we doubt. Like Israel, we struggle to reconcile our faith with the brokenness around us.
But our God is not silent. His invitation is open to all of us today. We can know that God keeps his promises. May we marvel today at the God of history, who has sent the Rescuer to us. In Christ, God expresses incomparable love for us. Though we were lost in darkness, a light has dawned!
Our Via Communities are our primary discipleship tool. This section is to help you as you discuss the sermon with others in your life. It is designed for communities to utilize but can be used to facilitate a conversation between spouses, good friends, co-workers, etc., as we live to be faithful to God’s mission in his world.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
The Gospel is powerful. The good news of Jesus changes us. This section is to record the ways you are noticing the good news of Jesus transforming your life. Jot notes to help you remember.
As we examined God’s Word, in what ways was His Word examining you?
Describe how Jesus is becoming more central in your life.
What does trusting in Jesus look like for you this week?