Congratulations fearless reader! You have made it to Day Ten! Taking the time to focus on anything for ten days requires discipline, and again I am humbled that you are taking this journey with me.
Today we are back to hanging out in the Gospel of Luke, and we are looking at the forgotten story of the Christmas narrative: Zechariah’s song. If you recall, we began this story in Luke with Zechariah in the Temple receiving the message from Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with John (the Baptist). Zechariah of course did not believe this, so Gabriel struck him mute. In our passage today we see the birth of John, and we’ll see what Zechariah says as soon as he has the power to speak again.
We’ve been looking at the Christmas narrative for the past few days through the lens of: what does participating in God’s work entail, and what does it require? We’ll stick with that today, but I also want our reading today to serve as a sort of interlude for us. You’ll see in Zechariah’s words an abundance of references back to the hopes of Israel, which was where we started. Therefore, this is a great moment to note that THE HOPES HAVE NOT CHANGED. More on that below, but first go ahead and read over our scripture.
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands 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
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
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.”
#1: Notice those same old hopes being fulfilled!
Zechariah believes that the birth of John points to God’s work of fulfilling his promises and the hopes of his people. We see here the restoration of the true king (1:69) who will protect God’s people and lead them justly. We see Israel freed from enemies so that they can serve God in righteousness, thus fulfilling their vocation from the time of Moses (1:74-75). And we see the promise to Abraham recognized (1:73), which means a restored relationship with God that will lead to blessing (1:76-77) and to peace (1:78).
(Note: here we can see, and I think it’s pretty cool, that God ties all three of the covenants/promises together backwards . . . The story was first Abraham to Moses to David, and God redeems it in reverse order: the King (promise to David) comes who restores and frees the people (Moses) so that they can be the blessing (Abraham) that they were meant to be. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, just disregard this note!)
#2: Participating in God’s work means celebration and second chances.
We don’t always have tons of clarity when we’re participating in God’s work. Often, we’re going on faith and hope, and trying to be faithful with what little we know. But there are moments when we get to see God’s work clearly. When those moments arrive they are to be celebrated! Zechariah’s song is an expression of his joy at what he clearly sees God doing in his life and his world. And, it’s his last part in this story; he will not appear in Luke again. I think it’s pretty cool that he gets to end his part in this story with celebration… wouldn’t we all like our stories to end in that manner? It’s even cooler still because Zechariah failed to celebrate God’s work the first time (the Gabriel striking him mute thing). Just because he failed once doesn’t mean God cut him out of the story! Zechariah gets another chance to celebrate, and this time he steps up big-time.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this, with regard to a challenge for us today. How are you doing with celebrating God’s work in your life or in your world? In the places where you have clarity (meaning, places you know God is working or is present or is blessing you) are you taking the time to thank him and celebrate this good news with others? If not, don’t you think Christmas might be a great time to do that? And of course, if you have missed some opportunities, remember Zechariah: step up next time and make it happen! Let’s begin growing our ability to celebrate so that our stories can end like Zechariah’s.
#3: Warning (Spoiler Alert!)
I just want you to take a moment and consider how good things have sounded in this Christmas story up until this point. Gabriel’s news, Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song . . . it all sounds so clear-cut and resolved. Of course, we know this will not be the case in the end. But for today, just consider the expectations of the characters (according to their words), and whether you think their expectations will match the reality to come. When the actual moment arrives, will it be glorious and triumphant? Do these characters know what they’re getting into? We’ll talk more about this next time.