The Savior's Song: Sung by Zechariah
The first two chapter of Luke contain four songs, four poems, four outburst of praise that are for us the first four Christmas carols. And we’re considering those songs, one per week, each of the four Sundays of Advent. And each song has a context, a story that gives birth to the song. And we need to know the story in order to appreciate and glean what the Lord has for us in the song.
The Other Side of the Tracks
And there’s a story this morning that gives birth to “The Savior’s Song” as sung by Zechariah, from Luke 2:1-21. Two people who were more minor Characters in the story last week--Zechariah the priest and his wife, Elizabeth--are the main characters in the story this week. They are righteous before God and walk blameless in his commandments. Now, that doesn’t mean they were sinless and ever made a mistake. But it does mean that they lived their life well and in a manner pleasing to the Lord with outward conformity to his law. And people noticed. They lived as well as they could under God’s law.
And in beginning in verse 8, Zechariah’s priestly division is on duty. And they were responsible twice daily to keep the incense burning in the Holy Place. And who got to go in and fulfill this honor was decided by lot. And the lot fell to Zechariah. So this is the pinnacle of this priestly career. There were 18,000 priests. Many never received the honor. And for those who did, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is the closest Zechariah has ever been or ever will be to God’s presence on earth.
The Silence Broken
And as he scans the room, there to the right of the altar, at the place of honor and authority, in an angel. No one is supposed to be in there. Let alone an angel, the same angel, Gabriel, who came to Mary last week, from the very presence of God in heaven. Then, beginning in verse 13, the angel speaks. And we have to be careful to not read right past that and miss the significance. When Gabriel comforts Zechariah and tells him not to be afraid, at that moment, 400 years of what the Jews interpreted as silence from God, comes to an end--in an instant. There had been no prophet, no angel, no word from the Lord, no visitation since the prophet Malachi four centuries prior. Zechariah was not anticipating this encounter. In fact, expectations may well have dried up a long time ago.
But God is speaking now through his angel. And what he says is astounding. Look at it beginning in the middle of verse 13. God has heard your prayers. Those prayers you used to pray before Elizabeth passed through menopause, those prayers for a child, God heard every one of them. And Elizabeth is going to have a son. And you are to name him John, which means “our God is gracious” because God is pouring out his grace. And so you will have joy and gladness. And this child won’t only bless you, others will rejoice at his birth. Because your son, Zechariah, will be great. And so he’s to be set apart for his special task.
What’s being announced is remarkable. This is more than just an answer to the prayers of a childless couple. This is about the answer to the prayers of all of Israel. Your son, Zechariah, is the one Malachi predicted would come in the spirit of Elijah and prepare the way of the Lord. So rejoice that you will have a son. But rejoice even more that the coming of your son marks the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, the hope and consolation of Israel! The silence is over. God is about to visit his people with salvation.
A priest, face to face with an angel, just outside the Holy of Holies, encountering God in his temple--this righteous man who keeps God’s commandments, who has gone as far as the Law by itself can take anyone. And here, in this big moment, on this immense stage, he fails profoundly. He fails to believe the word of God. And he gives in to the thief of all hope and joy--the thief of unbelief.
And maybe that’s you today. Maybe you’re right there with Zechariah. You can’t see beyond your circumstances this morning to the promises of God. You’re laid low and in the dark. You can’t believe that God is at work. You look and all you see is the brokenness, the loss, the limitation, the hurt. You don’t have the confidence to take God at his word. If that’s you today, then to you I say: Hang on, don’t give up, don’t check out, because ultimately this is a story of rescue and hope. And there’s rescue and hope for you.
And the rescue begins in verses 19-20. Zechariah’s faithless voice is removed. And you might say, “Wait a minute. Where’s the rescue? Where’s the hope? This just seems like punishment and more darkness.” And again I say, hang one. It’s coming. And the voicelessness is part of it.
Zechariah comes out of the Holy Place. His physical ailment disqualifies him from service. He’s laid bare, stripped of status and power and position. And he has 9 months to think over and ponder and pray. And lo and behold, verse 24: Elizabeth conceives and when it’s time to announce his name, Elizabeth says that he is to be called John. And the people push back. That’s not naming according to tradition. John is not a family name. So they make signs to Zechariah in verse 62, to see what he wants to name the boy. When he understands what they’re asking, he writes: “His name is John,” surprising the crowd. And immediately, verse 64 says, his mouth is opened and his tongue is loosed.
Do you see what’s happening in the naming of the boy “John”? That’s the obedience of faith. Nine months of silent pondering and praying the promises of God have bore some serious fruit in the life of Zechariah. Not only does his unbelief give way to trust in God’s promises. But he acts on his faith and against the preferences of the crowd and obeys the Lord and names his son “John.” He comes to understand that God keeps his promises and God loves to exalt himself by doing what seems humanly impossible. He’s worthy of trust.
And the first thing Zechariah does with his newfound voice is bless God. Though the song is filled with details of God’s worthiness, one main theme emerges in the song. You can probably guess it. Here it is: God keeps his promises. He is now so sure of God’s promises, that he speaks of them in the past tense. As if they’ve already happened. At the circumcision of his own son, he sings a song about Mary’s son, Jesus. Who isn’t even born yet, but who he now believes to be a visitation from God himself, the redeemer of his people, the mighty horn of salvation, the King of kings to sit on David’s throne forever. He came out of the silence filled with the Spirit and singing a song of profound insight. And he sang with faith. Our unbelief cannot undo God’s promises, but God’s promises can undo our unbelief.
Here’s one more observation about Zechariah’s song: Unbelief is not the last word. Zechariah came to realize that his own righteousness wasn’t enough to save him. He was good man, but not good enough. He was given to unbelief and doubt. And so he came to realize the greatness of the gift of Mary’s baby and his own son destined to prepare the way for the Lord, when he recognized his own need for the gift. Zechariah came to realize that he needed saving. He needed a Savior. He needed the redemption of the strong Horn of Salvation. He needed a righteousness that came from outside himself. He needed forgiveness of sin. He needed light to break through and cast out the darkness and lead him in the paths of peace with god. And that’s exactly what he sings about. That’s the song, “The Savior’s Song” as sung by Zechariah.
And that theme of God keeping his promises is even more pronounced in our song now because we know that 2 Corinthians 1:20 is true: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (in Jesus).” He died and rose again to secure all of God’s promises for us. No matter where you are in terms of unbelief and doubt, no matter the affliction you face today, God’s promises are yes for you. You might not feel like they are, but that is what is objectively true. God will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). He will draw near to you as you draw near to him (James 4:8). If we confess our sins, even our unbelief, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God will transform you and make you partake of the divine nature as you trust in him (2 Peter 1:4). God will uphold you in your affliction and make all things work together for good for you (Romans 8:28). The world, the flesh, and the devil will not ultimately prevail against you (1 John 3:8, Hebrews 9:26). God will bring you safely home to your final glory in his presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
Don’t give up. This is the message of Christmas: All God’s promises are yes in Christ. That’s a pretty sweet Christmas gift.
*Adapted from Sung by Zechariah originally preached by Rick Gamache on December 10, 2017*
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