Text: Luke 1:68-75
Date: January 2 & 3, 2016
The Second Sunday after Christmas, Year C
Luke 1:68-75 (NIV84), 68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
God Has Redeemed His People
The lesson before us is what has been come to be known as the Benedictus (because that’s the first word of the song in Latin), or the Song of Zechariah. The song is a song of hope and assurance in the love and forgiveness of God, one uttered, as the verse before our lesson says, when Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. At the birth of his son, Zechariah was so overjoyed at the love of God that he just had to say it. His song reminds you and me that God has redeemed his people, so that Zechariah’s joy is our joy as well.
The story of Zechariah is fairly remarkable. He was a priest who served God in the temple at Jerusalem. His wife was named Elizabeth, and they were both well along in years. Zechariah was picked by lot to go burn incense in the temple. While he was in there, an angel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife would have a son. Zechariah didn’t laugh at the message like Abraham’s wife had at the thought of bearing children in old age, but he did question how this could happen.
The angel then took from Zechariah the ability to speak; he was mute from that time on, even as they found out for certain that Elizabeth was pregnant. When the baby was born, she had a son. When they were naming the child, Elizabeth told everyone that his name was to be John, because that is what the angel had told them his name would be. The relatives scoffed at that idea because John was not a family name at all. Then Zechariah got up and wrote on a tablet, “His name is John!” Instantly, the ability for him to speak returned. It seems that one of the first things he said is what is in our lesson for this morning.
Zechariah’s whole focus is on the redemption of God. To “redeem” means to buy back. When you redeem a coupon at the store, the store buys that slip of paper back from you for whatever the value on it is. The person who pays a ransom to someone’s kidnappers is redeeming the kidnapped person from the control of those who had taken him.
Zechariah said that God redeemed his people by raising up a horn of salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. The horn was a symbol of power. God’s raising up the horn of salvation showed that he had great strength, that he could actually accomplish what he had set out to do.
Zechariah is seeing, in his advanced years, God raising up that horn of salvation. As he mentioned, it’s something that God had promised for years and years through his prophets. But now the child that would be born to him and his wife Elizabeth would be the enacting of that strength. Their son John would prepare the way for Jesus; he would point him out as the Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the whole world. The salvation of God had come. The salvation of God was now!
It is with that excitement, hope, and joy that Zechariah sings his Benedictus. As a priest he knew the animal sacrifices that God had commanded were all pointing to something much bigger. But he also knew what it was to serve God with fear, with respect and awe. There were many rules and regulations that had to be followed. As we heard in the account of Moses on Christmas Day, God’s glory is not something that a sinner can see or stand. To see God without the perfect he demands is to be destroyed.
That’s where we all stand, before God with fear and trembling. Sin has reduced us to less than nothing in God’s eyes, an object that must be punished for the crimes we’ve committed against his holy law. For that, God should’ve raised up the horn of destruction, the strength of his punishment against us.
But he didn’t. Instead, through Abraham and the prophets he swore an oath to save, not abandon his people. He promised to rescue them, not destroy them. John’s birth meant the beginning of the end for those who held us in slavery. Though sin had its hold on us, John would prepare the way for Jesus, the one who would redeem us, who would buy us back, with the strength of his salvation.
We don’t see that strength very clearly in the manger. In fact, we don’t see it very clearly through the whole of Jesus’ ministry. His death seems to be the opposite of what we would need, the opposite of the strength required to save us, the opposite of what we would expect God’s champion to be. And yet, that humble life, that innocent death was exactly God’s strength. During his life Jesus actively kept God’s law for us, what we could not do. At the cross Jesus passively allowed himself to be killed, because we needed not the blood of bulls and lambs slaughtered on Israel’s altars, but the blood of God himself to forgive our sins.
Because of that we have been enabled to serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. We no longer cower before God because of our sin; we give thanks to him because of the perfection he freely gives to us! He raised up the horn of salvation for us and his strength has set us free from our sins. He redeemed us, bought us back, from sin and death. They can do nothing to us; we are God’s. He has purchased us with his own blood.
At the risk of sounding like an English teacher, one of those most striking things to note about Zechariah’s song is the tense he uses in his verbs. Keep in mind he spoke these words at the birth of his son, John, who was born about six months before Jesus was born. The events surrounding Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem haven’t even happened yet, and Jesus’ ministry certainly hasn’t, and yet Zechariah says that God has redeemed his people and raised up a horn of salvation. Zechariah speaks in the past tense, that God has already done these things. Jesus hasn’t died and thus hadn’t redeemed us—he hadn’t even been born yet!
Zechariah is showing us very clearly what faith does. It latches onto the promises of God and doesn’t let go. You and I may rightly say that we will have eternal life in heaven when God takes us home, but we’re also very right in saying that we have eternal life right now. God has promised it to us. When God says it, it as good as done. God’s Word in promise is as trustworthy as it is in reminding what he has already done.
We’re tempted many times to pray for help that God has promised to give, and if we don’t see results right away, we just assume it’s not coming. Our sinful nature can convince us that God is not trustworthy, that what he said isn’t true, and we’re on our own. That’s almost exactly the line of reasoning that Satan used with Adam and Eve to get them to fall in Eden. When you’re overwhelmed beyond the point that you think you can manage, when an illness leads you to doubt whether or not God is really taking care of you, when it feels like all of your sins are surely forgiven—except that one big one that plagues your conscience day and night—take Zechariah’s example for your own.
God has promised to watch over you and take care of you. Therefore, he will. God has promised to give you a way out regardless of what hardship or temptation is weighing you down. Therefore, he will. God has promised that all of your sins are forgiven—even the “big” ones. Therefore, they are. God has promised to bring you home to heaven because Jesus has died for you. Therefore, he will.
That is the oath he has sworn, not just to Abraham, but to you and me as well. Trust in the Lord’s promises. He has redeemed his people. He has bought you back to be his own. Thanks be to God! Merry Christmas! Amen.