Sermon for Advent Midweek 2
+ Luke 1:68-79 +
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The second song of Advent – the Song of Zechariah. Benedictus! Blessed! The word literally means, “To be given a eulogy; to be praised; to be spoken well of.” Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!
Zechariah sang this song, inspired by the Holy Spirit, on the day his son John was circumcised and named. You remember the story, I suppose. Nine months earlier Zechariah had been ministering in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that God was going to grant him and his wife, Elizabeth, a son in their old age – a son who would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah didn’t believe it at the time. But now that he held his one-week-old son in his arms, he knew it was true. Not just the part about having a son – that was pretty obvious. He believed the other part, too, about what his son would do for Israel. And when he thought about that, he just had to sing. Benedictus! Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!
Why? Why should he be spoken well of? For he has visited and redeemed his people. This picture of God “visiting” and “redeeming” his people – isn’t that a neat picture? It shows up in the Old Testament at two key times in Israel’s history. When they were slaves in Egypt, and when they were held captive in Babylon.
Here’s what God promised them about their slavery in Egypt: God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob… Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
Here’s what God promised them about their captivity in Babylon: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope… You will go to Babylon, O Daughter of Zion; there you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies.
At both times – in Egypt and in Babylon – God promised, and God fulfilled. He visited and he redeemed his people from the hand of their enemies.
But that was nothing compared to the visitation and the redemption Zechariah was singing about. The Lord has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. God visited his people in the Old Testament by sending human saviors to rescue them from their human enemies. But now, in the house of his servant David, in the very womb of the virgin descended from David, God had visited his people in the most amazing way of all. God had come into the world as a baby growing in Mary’s belly. Redemption was already conceived. Salvation was already at hand.
But not salvation from a human enemy. Neither Jesus nor John the Baptist would save Israel from any human enemy. This divine Savior would save Israel from the enemies of sin, Satan and death, as God had promised in the Old Testament, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” He himself will redeem Israel…Oh, my! Yes, he himself – God in person, God joined to human flesh – will redeem Israel from all their sins. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!
And with what result? That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. The result of the salvation Christ came to accomplish is not – that Israel should now go out and ignore God’s will and rebel against him, but that Israel may now serve the Lord without fear. Zechariah knew about service to the Lord. He was a priest. It was his full-time job to serve the Lord in his temple. But he also knew that holiness and righteousness were an impossible dream. That’s why the priests had to bring sacrifices every day to the altar. That’s why priests had to bathe and wash and wear special garments, to hide their unholiness, to cover their unrighteousness – because priests and non-priests were all infected with sin. God was good and they were not. No one could serve him adequately, because a holy God deserves holy service by righteous people.
But now, blessed be the Lord God of Israel! Because in the womb of Mary grew the one who would cover priest and non-priest with his own holiness and righteousness, once for all, so that no more sacrifices would be necessary, no more ceremonial washings, except the one-time washing of baptism, no more blood would need to be spilt on the altar – because this child’s blood would be spilt once for all on the altar of the cross.
As a result, God’s people can finally serve him, without fear of messing it up, because sins are covered. God’s people can now serve him, not as priests in a temple, but in any and every place, with deeds of love and kindness, deeds that are made perfect and acceptable in God’s sight by the child conceived in Mary’s womb. No wonder Zechariah sings, Benedictus!
And he sings Benedictus! because he was holding in his arms the chosen prophet who would prepare the way for Christ’s salvation. And you, 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. See what kind of salvation the Christ would bring! Salvation in the form of forgiveness of sins. Because where sins are forgiven, then death itself must soon give way to life, and trial and tribulation must soon pass away into oblivion.
This one-week-old boy, the son of Zechariah, would one day get the people of Israel ready for Christ. God would use this boy to call his people to repentance, to call his people away from their imaginations of a political salvation or a social salvation, to teach his people to yearn for the coming of the Savior from sin, to get his people ready for the imminent Advent of Christ.
That Advent of Christ – would be the sunrise that shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. The sunrise was on the horizon. He was already conceived, and his prophet was already born. God had kept his word. The light of forgiveness in Christ was already beginning to shine. The shadow of death was already beginning to give way to life. And the way of peace – by faith in Christ – was about to be revealed.
Benedictus! Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. So sang Zechariah a few months before the Advent of Christ in Bethlehem. So sing we, too, this Advent season, because by the preaching of John and the teaching of Jesus, the Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed us, too, and made us a part of his people Israel through faith in Mary’s Son. And even as he kept every promise made to the nation of Israel to save them from their enemies, so he must keep his promises to us to visit and redeem us once more at the imminent Advent of his Christ. You and I have every bit as much reason to sing as Zechariah: Benedictus! Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! Amen.