131211 Luke 1:67-79

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 1:67-79
Theme: Benedictus = Praise = Blessed

Fast forward forty five minutes. This service is now over. You are gathering up the things in your pew when you spot someone you need to talk to. You make your way out into the fireside room and wade through the people. As you approach that person and open your mouth to speak, nothing comes out. Nothing at all. You don't know how it happened, but somehow you lost your voice

You try again, but it doesn't get any better. No amount of throat clearing can bring your voice back either. In fact, you are unable to make a sound for an entire year. No talking on the telephone. No hymn singing. No ability to tell your mom or dad or son or daughter, "I love you."

Now imagine that it is one year later. Out of necessity, you have learned to adapt to your situation. You use a lot of hand gestures now. Your have to write things down. You aren't happy about life without a voice, but you have learned to live with it. And then it happens. All of the sudden, with absolutely no warning, you can speak again. Your voice can be heard loud and clear.

If this were a true story, if this really happened to you, what would you want to say with your newly restored voice? What would you want to be the very first words to come out of your mouth? Maybe you want to think about that for a while.

If you are looking for suggestions, you are in luck because this is a true story. This did happen to an old priest named Zechariah. Because he doubted the angel Gabriel's promise that God would give him a son in his old age, he lost his ability to speak.

When the angel's words came true a year later, eight days after John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Zechariah's voice returned. And Luke records for us the first words that came out of his mouth. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah burst into song, a song whose title comes from the Latin translation of the first word: Benedictus.

Benedictus can mean a couple different things in English. The NIV translates it as "praise." "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel" (1:68). The King James Version of the Bible opts for the word, "blessed." "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel." Both words work. Both words are meaningful. And instead of choosing one translation over the other, both will be incorporated into this sermon. Tonight as we meditate on the second great song of the Advent season, with Zechariah we sing...

BENEDICTUS = PRAISE = BLESSED

I. Zechariah praised God
II. Zechariah was blessed by God

Zechariah had all kinds of reasons to praise God. After so many years, God had finally given him a son. After so many months, God had finally restored his ability to speak. But when Zechariah opened his mouth to praise God, neither one of those things came out first. Instead he sang: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people" (68).

If you are familiar with the events of Luke 1, you might be thinking to yourself: "Hey. Wait a minute. If John the Baptist is eight days old, then his cousin Jesus is still in his mother's womb. Technically, Jesus hasn't even been born yet, much less done anything to redeem his people. So how can Zechariah speak of Jesus' incarnation and redemption as if they are already accomplished facts?"

To answer this question, it is helpful to see how Luke describes Zechariah's song. He doesn't say "Zechariah sang" or "Zechariah proclaimed." Luke tells us that Zechariah "prophesied." As the promises of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the New Testament were about to collide, Zechariah prophesied about the not-so-distant future.

Zechariah's prophecy also recalled some of the promises God had made to his people in the past: "He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us" (69-71).

A thousand years before Gabriel spoke to Zechariah, God himself spoke to David. He promised David that the Savior would come from his line. He promised that this Savior would sit on his throne. He promised David that his kingdom would last forever (II Samuel 7).

A thousand years before that, two thousand years before Zechariah, God swore an oath to his servant Abraham: "to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (72-75).

This day was a very special day in the life of Zechariah, and not just because he got his voice back. This was the day of John's circumcision. This was the day when Jewish males entered into a covenant relationship with God. This covenant went all the way back to Abraham (Genesis 17). Circumcision was a physical sign of a spiritual relationship with God. As Zechariah's son was circumcised on the eighth day, God's promises to Abraham were being renewed. As Zechariah's son carried out his special calling, God's promises to Abraham were being fulfilled.

Incarnation. Redemption. Salvation. Thousands of years of history, thousands of years of promises, thousands of years of eager expectation were coming together at this time and place in history. And Zechariah could not help but "praise the Lord, the God of Israel." As the Song of Zechariah begins with Zechariah praising God, the Benedictus continues with the recognition that Zechariah had been blessed by God.

You can almost picture Zechariah holding his newborn son in his arms. He is overflowing with joy. He is bursting with pride. He is filled with the Spirit as he looks down at John and says: "And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him" (76).

As a priest, Zechariah worked for God. But he never could have imagined that his son would work with God. As a priest, Zechariah would have been proud if his son had followed in his footsteps. But God had other plans. The Lord called John to be a prophet, a prophet unlike any of God's messengers before him, "a prophet of the Most High."

What exactly does "a prophet of the Most High" do? Zechariah gives us a brief job description: "You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him" (76). God gave John a one-of-a-kind mission: to prepare the way for Jesus, to announce the Savior's arrival, to shine the spotlight on the coming Messiah.

To carry out his one-of-a-kind mission, the Lord gave John a one-of-a-kind message: "to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins" (77). As a prophet, John's appearance was rather rough. As a prophet, John's message of repentance was rather rough. But beneath that rough exterior, John brought a message of forgiveness. At its very heart and core, John's message was a message of hope.

Salvation was made possible "because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (78-79).

Zechariah had been blessed by God with a son. Considering the circumstances surrounding this birth, considering the role God had chosen for this child, Zechariah didn't expect anything more. But God gave him more. God gave him much more. In addition to a son (S-O-N), God also promised to give him the sun (S-U-N).

Jesus was the "rising sun," the "dayspring from on high (KJV)" He was about to break through the darkness, but the darkness didn't want to let go. The prince of darkness was determined to snuff out that light forever. And for a few hours, it was dark. On Good Friday, darkness covered the land. On Good Friday, the forces of darkness had their way. On Good Friday, the Son of God died. And it was a very dark day indeed.

But then a miracle happened, a miracle far greater than the birth of John, a miracle even greater than the virgin birth of Jesus. The Son rose. The rising sun rose from the dead. Jesus Christ emerged from the grave with all the glory and splendor of an Easter morning sunrise. The Light of the world brought life to the world. The prince of darkness was defeated. The deeds of darkness were forgiven. As Zechariah gazed into the eyes of his one and only son, as Zechariah gazed into the future and saw the supreme sacrifice of God's one and only Son, he knew that he was blessed.

Copyright laws are designed to protect the rights of authors and composers. It is illegal, and there are stiff penalties for reproducing their work without permission. The Benedictus was composed by Zechariah, but his song of praise is not copyrighted. In fact, I believe that Zechariah would encourage us to use it as much as we want and to make his song our own.

And why not? We have just as many reasons to sing: "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel" (68). Praise the Lord who has come to us as a little baby. Praise the Lord who will come again as the King of glory. Praise the Lord who has bought us with his own blood. Praise the Lord who has forgiven our sins. Praise the Lord who heals our diseases. Praise to the Lord who answers our prayers. Praise the Lord who keeps his promises. Praise the Lord whose love never ends.

When we add up everything the Lord has done and continues to do for us, when we look at the huge amount of the physical blessings that are ours and realize that they are nothing compared with the spiritual gifts God gives, when we humbly recognize that God doesn't owe us any of it, it becomes clear that we have one more thing in common with Zechariah. We are blessed.

Therefore, the song of Zechariah is not just an Advent song. It is a song for all seasons. It is a song for all believers. And it's simple one word title captures the essence of its message: Benedictus = Praise = Blessed. Amen.

 

 

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