by Rev. Luke T. Zimmerman, Mechanicsburg, PA
Zecharias praised God: “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.”
The opening lines of Zecharias’ song are familiar to many Lutherans. It is the beginning of the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle which is sung or spoken together during the Order of Morning Prayer. It is also the second of four songs about the Savior found in St. Luke’s Gospel.
Like the Virgin Mary of whom we heard last Wednesday, Zecharias sings about a miraculous birth, what the Lord God had accomplished. We are told that Zecharias and his wife Elizabeth were “advanced in years” and that Elizabeth was barren. But an angel of the Lord had spoken to Zecharias in Jerusalem’s Temple, telling him that he and his wife would have a son.
Doubting that possibility, Zecharias was struck mute by the angel until the time his son would be born. The angel also instructed Zecharias to name his son John and that John would be a great man with a great purpose: “He will go before the Lord 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.”
Now after the length of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, her son was born. And when the infant boy was to be circumcised and named, Zecharias scribbles out the name John on a tablet, giving this name to his son as the angel had commanded. As the last letters are printed, Zecharias’ tongue is loosed and he opens his mouth in praise of the Lord God.
But notice what Zecharias says, how his song of praise begins: “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.” Zecharias’ prayer and praise has the Lord God as its object. But his prayer and praise is not first for his baby boy. Instead, Zecharias worships the Lord God for providing a Savior.
Who is this Savior? Who is “the horn of salvation in the house of His servant David?” It isn’t Zecharias’ son. His boy doesn’t fit the criteria. John’s lineage is like his mother’s and father’s: from the house of Aaron and the house of Levi, the priestly line of Israel. John is not born into the royal house of David. Zecharias’ son is destined for great things, but only in service of the promised Savior.
John is the Savior’s forerunner, the one who makes ready the people for the Christ’s arrival. He does what Malachi prophesied: “Behold, I am sending My messenger to prepare the way before Me.” His father’s song places his work in its proper place: below the worship of the Christ and His work, in the subservient position. John is lauded and praised by Zecharias because of the One he will serve: “You my 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.”
John’s destiny is wrapped up in what he will do for Christ and what Christ does for him, not in what he does for himself. The Christ who “saves us from our enemies” and “shows the mercy promised to our fathers” is the main subject of Zecharias’ song, not the birth of his son. And like Zecharias, we Christians also have the Savior as the focus of our worship.
We sing Zecharias’ song because of what the promised Savior does for us, just as He did for Zecharias and Elizabeth and John and all of our ancestors in the faith. “The oath sworn to our father Abraham” has been fulfilled in the birth of Mary’s Son Jesus and in His life’s work for us. He has “delivered us from the hands of our enemies” of sin, death, and Satan. And now, “we serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all of our days.”
The work of John was to make known the identity of the Savior. With that completed, his task, his purpose was fulfilled. As John himself would say: “Behold, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And pointing to Jesus, he would also rightly confess: “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He must increase and I must decrease.”
Like Zecharias, his father, John worships the Christ and serves Him without fear. The same calling is given to us. We are to take the same humble position as John and to exalt our Savior Jesus as Zecharias did. Our redemption and hope is found in “the horn of salvation.” Not in ourselves, not in the messengers of Jesus, but in the Savior alone is our deliverance.
In this season of preparation, let us focus on that great truth. Let us know that our salvation is in the forgiveness of sins that our Lord Jesus Christ provides us through His work, His life, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. That is what Zecharias and John have made known to us by testifying about the Lord God. Let us “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all of our days,” just as Zecharias’ song declares. Then let us thank the Lord God for the messengers He has sent, those who have made Him known to us and prepared His ways, always placing Him first in importance.
And finally, we will join in Zecharias’ song both now and when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory and brings the Church to everlasting life with Him: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the Sunday of the Birth of John the Baptist
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