“A Birth and a Benedictus” (Luke 1:57-80)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 15, 2021

“A Birth and a Benedictus” (Luke 1:57-80)

In this Advent series, we’re looking at the events leading up to the birth of Christ, as they are recorded in the first chapter of Luke. Two weeks ago, we started with the angel Gabriel announcing to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, that he’s to be named John, and that this son of theirs would go before the Lord to prepare his way. Then last week, Gabriel went to a virgin named Mary and announced that she would give birth to the Messiah, the Christ, and that he is to be named Jesus. Luke chapter 1 then continues with Mary going to visit Elizabeth, and we will get that reading this Sunday. But today we go to the last part of Luke 1, and we read about “A Birth and a Benedictus.” The birth is the birth of John; the Benedictus is the song of praise that Zechariah sings when he gives the child that name.

When last we left Zechariah, he had been struck mute, unable to speak, because he had not believed the words Gabriel had spoken to him. The angel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth were going to have a child, even though they were too old for that. The angel brought good news from God, but Zechariah didn’t believe it. So Gabriel told him, “Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Well, now that time has come. The angel’s words are being fulfilled. Zechariah has been unable to speak the last nine months. But once the baby is born, a week later, when it’s time to give the child his name, God does restore Zechariah’s ability to speak. And when Zechariah speaks, people listen. We will, for Zechariah has good news to give us today.

The baby is born! It’s the eighth day now, time to have the boy circumcised. It’s also the time to announce the child’s name. The name is not official until it’s announced publicly by the father, as the head of the household. The friends and relatives are at the house for the naming ceremony. They think “Zechariah” would be a good name for the baby. And it would have been. The name “Zechariah” means “The Lord remembers.” And the Lord did remember Zechariah and Elizabeth; he blessed them with a child in their old age. Plus, it’s the name of the boy’s father. So, “Zechariah Jr.” would have been a good choice.

Now Dad is still unable to speak, so the relatives and friends run their suggestion by the mom, Elizabeth. But she says, “No; he shall be called John.” Apparently, sometime during the past nine months, Zechariah had written down for Elizabeth the gist of his conversation with Gabriel, and about how the child is to be named. So that’s the name she goes with, “John.” But now the final decision is up to the father. What will he decide? Zechariah cannot speak to announce his decision, so he grabs a writing tablet, which is how he’s had to communicate these last nine months. Zechariah’s message is short and simple: “His name is John.” Now the name is official. Now Zechariah’s faith is evident. Now his mouth is opened, and his tongue is loosed.

Zechariah now speaks, and we should listen. Filled with the Holy Spirit. Zechariah praises the Lord and prophesies about John. His song is poetic in style and profound in substance. It’s in the form of an Old Testament psalm. We call Zechariah’s song the “Benedictus”: “Benedictus” being the first word of the Latin translation, and it means “Blessed.” “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” is how the Benedictus begins.

Zechariah speaks, and we listen. We’ll go through the Benedictus now, piece by piece, for these are words of salvation for us. First: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Zechariah begins by praising the name of the Lord. Why? Because he has “visited and redeemed” his people. This is an Old Testament way of speaking. When the Lord “visits” his people, he comes down to act in history on their behalf. The Lord gets involved when he “visits” us. He’s acting to “redeem” his people, that is, to deliver us, to set us free. Now the amazing thing Zechariah is saying is that the Lord is visiting and redeeming his people right here in the birth of John. John’s birth is setting in motion the fulfillment of all of salvation history.

The Lord has visited and redeemed his people and, as Zechariah continues, “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” What does it mean that the Lord has raised up “a horn of salvation”? The term “horn,” in biblical language, conveys “power,” much like a ram’s horn delivers strength and power. The Lord is raising up a horn of salvation, a powerful deliverer, “in the house of his servant David.” But wait a minute–Zechariah and his son John are not from the house of David. Zechariah, being a priest, was from the tribe of Levi, but David was from the tribe of Judah. So who is this horn of salvation being raised up in the house of David? The house of David was the line of kings, the messianic line. So, is there a descendant of David about to be raised up? Is the Messiah on his way? And what role will little John play in relation to the Messiah? That’s the story being unfolded here.

What this horn of salvation will mean for us, Zechariah now tells us: “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Here we see that God’s promise goes back even further than David. The covenant with Abraham also is being fulfilled. Zechariah–“The Lord remembers”–Zechariah says that the Lord remembers his holy covenant. That covenant was to bless Abraham and his descendants, that through Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. This is the covenant the Lord is fulfilling now, beginning with the birth of John. It is a covenant of salvation. We are “saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” We are “delivered from the hand of our enemies.” This is a covenant of mercy. The Lord shows mercy on us, helping us in the midst of our misery and distress.

Now what role will John play in all of this? Papa Zechariah addresses his newborn son: “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, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise 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.”

What a destiny for little John! What a ministry he will have! To be the prophet who prepares the way of the Lord! That’s what John will do. He will call people to repent of their sins and to receive forgiveness for them. John will make known the salvation coming in the one greater than he. John is the herald announcing the dawning of a new day, the sunrise from on high coming in the person of Christ. John prepares the way, and Jesus brings the light of life into our darkness and death. Now we walk in the way of peace, and we know where we’re going. The birth of John signals that all of this is now underway.

When Zechariah speaks, people listen. We listen. We hear good news today when we hear Zechariah’s song, the Benedictus. The Benedictus tells us of a God of salvation and mercy, a God who makes a holy covenant with his people. The Lord remembers his covenant and acts in history to deliver us.

Dear friends, our God remembers his promises. He has not forgotten you. Oh, he remembers your sins no more, but he has not forgotten you. The Lord remembers. He has visited and redeemed his people. He has raised up for us a horn of salvation from the house of David. This is the Christ, Jesus our Lord. He is the child coming after the birth of John. John prepares the way, and then Jesus comes on through. Jesus Christ is the Son of David, the Messiah. He is the seed of Abraham through whom you and your family are blessed. Jesus is salvation and mercy for you. By his redeeming death on the cross and his victorious resurrection from the dead, Christ Jesus has delivered you from your enemies, from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.

And so now, like Zechariah, you are free to serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of your life. Now, like Zechariah, your mouth is opened and your tongue is loosed. You and I together join Zechariah in singing our praise to the Lord who remembers his covenant and acts to save us. Benedictus! “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” for he is our God too.

Published in: on December 15, 2021 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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