by Mike Pohlman, Bellingham, WA
I love Christmas music. Of course, not all Christmas music is created equal. Each year I find myself migrating toward Christmas music that points me to the heart of the season. I love music that sings about God and his Christ—music that reminds me that there is a Redeemer, Jesus Christ God's own Son.
One of my favorite songs comes from the Gospel of Luke. Zachariah's prophecy is lyrical theology at its best. In this hymn of hope we are reminded of what is most profound about Christmas.
Of course, Zachariah wasn't always singing. For a time he was mute because he doubted the promise of God to provide for him and Elizabeth a son—the one who would "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Luke 1:16). But once John was born Zachariah got his voice back and the first thing he did was offer praise to God for providing salvation: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people …" (Luke 1:68).
Zachariah's Song is made up of two long sentences with the first praising God for providing salvation (Luke 1:68-75) and the second summarizing the role of his son as the one who would prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 1:76-79).
Zachariah could not help but sing over the fulfillment of God's promise of salvation in a coming Redeemer. In a burst of exultation, Zachariah announces that God has "raised up a horn of salvation" in keeping with the words "he spoke by the mouth of the prophets from of old" (Luke 1:69-70). Indeed, all the promises of God find their "Yes" in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).
Not only is Zachariah's prophecy intended to show us the faithfulness of God, but also his mercy. This salvation is according to the "tender mercy of our God" (Luke 1:78). Even as Zachariah is summarizing the role his son John would play in preparing the way for the Lord, he cannot take his focus off God and the absolute mercy it is that he would provide a Savior. For Zachariah the purpose of the birth of Jesus Christ is to display the mercy of God (Luke 1:72). And what a mercy it is that sinners like us can find forgiveness of our sins and, in Christ, serve God "without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days" (Luke 1:74-75).
And we must not miss the beautiful imagery Zachariah uses in predicting the coming of Christ into the world. He relates the appearing of our salvation to a majestic "sunrise … from on high" (Luke 1:78). The purpose of light is to banish darkness and this is exactly what Jesus, the Light of the world, does. As Zachariah sings, Jesus will "give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79).
Oh how our hearts should break this Christmas for loved ones that remain in the "shadow of death." Apart from Christ we "walk in gloom" (Isa. 59:9) and hate the light (John 3:20). We duck and hide and position ourselves in every way imaginable trying, in vain, to avoid the One with whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). Our sin is so all-consuming that the apostle can simply call us "darkness" (Eph. 5:8). And tragically this Christmas people dear to us are replaying in their hearts Mozart's "Requiem" instead of Zachariah's hymn of hope.
But this Christmas can be different.
The Gospel is the good news that there is a way for sinners to come out of the shadow of death and enter into God's "marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus promises his followers that they "will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). This is the truth that put songs in the heart of Elizabeth, Mary, Zachariah, and Simeon. This is the news that infuriated Herod, brought Magi from the east and caused the angels to sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Peace. Heavenly peace. This is how Zachariah concludes his song. The salvation of the Lord will "guide our feet into the way of peace." Of course, this is no ordinary peace. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This is the peace of Christ and received by faith.
Unfortunately I don't think we will see Zachariah's hymn as a "Top Song" at iTunes any time soon. However, this is a song infinitely more valuable than anything we will ever see featured there and a song worth singing not just this Christmas, but for all eternity.
Source: Christianity.com Daily Update. Mike Pohlman is lead pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham, WA.
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