Reader: ““Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,”
Response: “because he has visited and redeemed his people.”
Scripture: Luke 1:68-79
“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies
and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors
by remembering his sacred covenant—
the covenant he swore with an oath
to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live.
“And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.”
You know the context. Zechariah, the man who spoke this prophecy was the father of John the Baptist. You’ll recall the last book in the First Testament ended with the prediction of an Elijah heralding the coming of the Messiah. Then four hundred years of prophetic silence. With the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah in the Temple, we come to the end of the Old Testament and the onset of the New Testament. The First Testament focused on the nation of Israel, the New Testament on the Incarnate Son of God. (For more background information on Zechariah see Dec.9 of Advent Devotion 2020.) I want us today to look at this prophetic canticle, the song of this old priest. The question had been raised among the people, since the birth was so unique, wondering if this baby boy would turn out to be someone special. It appeared the Lord’s hand was upon this child. Afterall, his birth was a true miracle!
While we don’t know how quickly he responded to the comment regarding the uniqueness of his newborn son, note the depth and perspective of Zechariah’s response. He draws a parallel between God coming down from heaven and “visiting” and redeeming his people from a hopeless situation, bondage in Egypt, and coming down again, but this time it isn’t just to get them out of trouble, it is to bring to them lasting salvation―the ultimate Promised Land―heaven in the presence of God.
This Savior will be from the royal line of King David as the First Testament prophets had foretold. These hundreds of years old prophecies were being fulfilled now. On the surface the expectation was that God would save the Jews from their occupying enemies, the Romans. But the salvation offered here had a far larger scope and significance. It was a salvation from guilt, from the power of sin, Satan, evil and death.
All too often I’m afraid we are looking in our day for a cheaper salvation, something from God that will get us out of the mess we are in rather than a core foundational salvation. Will solving a surface problem on earth bring ultimate peace when hearts are in rebellion against the Lord of heaven and earth? I’m afraid at times our prayers are too shallow. We wind up praying to be the solvers of the troubles. The thing that always strikes me is God’s relentless promise to “be with us.” Have you noticed the Bible never says, “try harder,” “try again,” or “pick yourself up, you can do it”? The emphasis is always on “I will be with you” ―Emmanuel.
In the next portion of Zechariah’s hymn, he moves from speaking about the coming Messiah to words concerning his baby son to prophesying that he will be called the Prophet of the Most High. John’s mission will be clear and direct; repent of your sins to find salvation. God is about to bring light to a dark world. Due to God’s mercy, the fear of death is about to be extinguished forever with the arrival of the Messiah. Good news!
So where does this leave us? In many ways we are in the same place as the people surrounding Zechariah when he uttered this song. We too are awaiting the final visit of God to complete the salvation of his people. The Savior will most certainly come again to establish his eternal kingdom. Like John the Baptist, we can tell people all around us “who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” how to find salvation through the forgiveness of their sin. Use your voice to speak Truth this day. . . even to yourself. Repentance is undervalued.
Music: “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry
Bonus: Song of Zechariah
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rYw41Tkk_c Choral chant of Zechariah’s text
Prayer:Heavenly Father, save me entirely from sin. I know I am righteous through the righteousness of another, but I pant and pine for likeness to thyself. I am thy child and should bear thy image. All too often it is tainted. Enable me to recognize my death unto sin and when it tempts me may I be deaf unto its voice. Give me a will to refuse its call. Thou art merciful toward all who call on thee. Again, I answer the call of John the Baptist and repent and turn to again rest in thee, my Savior and my Lord. Amen. ―adapted Daniel Sharp from Valley of Vision, p.92