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A New and Glorious Morn

Date: Dec. 8, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Luke 1:67-80

Key Verse: Luke 1:78-79

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.

One of my wife’s favorite movies is The Sound of Music. I’m pretty sure most of the people here have heard of it. It is a musical from 1965 with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. If you know about musicals, there is a bit of story that passes and suddenly, the cast bursts out in song. When I was younger, I never really liked musicals because nobody acts like that. I find it funny that I like sci-fi and that requires a tremendous amount of suspension of belief, but I had trouble suspending belief for musicals. In the movie, when a cast member reached a certain level of emotion, they seemed to break out in song. Who lives their life like that? Who spontaneously breaks out in song in their life? Where is the music coming from? Suddenly, while they are singing, there is music that everyone can hear because, then there are the random people in the background that start dancing along. Where did they come from? Did they just drop whatever they were doing to start dancing along? Then they go back to doing whatever they were doing before without missing a beat. For some reason it just bugged me. However, when I look at the first chapter of Luke, from which last week’s passage and this week’s passage come, I can’t help but think it must have been like a musical.  If you look at last week’s passage, Mary burst out in a song about her unborn son after visiting her relative Elizabeth. Suddenly, she is singing. Today’s passage is no different. We have Zechariah and he suddenly starts singing. It is like a new day has dawned, because it has.

Like I said before, our passage is all about a song that Zechariah sung after the birth of his son. Zechariah was a priest and he was married to the same Elizabeth that Mary visited. They were both very old and had no children, and one time, when Zechariah was chosen to minister to the Lord in the Most Holy Place in the temple, which was like a once in a lifetime event, while Zechariah was praying for his nation and its people, the angel Gabriel came to him and said that Elizabeth would become pregnant. Zechariah was very skeptical and didn’t believe what the angel told him. Because Zechariah didn’t believe Gabriel, he was made silent until the day the baby would be born. When Zechariah came out of the Most Holy Place, he couldn’t speak, and he went home when is time to serve was up. His wife became pregnant and remained in seclusion for five months, until her relative Mary came to visit with extraordinary news of her own. Mary stayed for three months and then went home. Not long after that, Elizabeth had her child, a son. As was custom, eight days after his birth, the boy was circumcised and that is when the boy was to be named. The people wanted to name the boy Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth said no and wanted to name him John, the name the angel said to name him. The people were perplexed. John was not a family name, but they asked Zechariah, who still couldn’t speak, and he wrote on a tablet that the boy’s name was to be John. With that, Zechariah’s mouth was opened, and his tongue was set free, and he began to praise God. Then, the people began to wonder what the boy was going to be.

Then at just the right moment, when the emotion was just right, the music began to play and people in the background start dancing and Zechariah’s mouth overflows with a song. The Bible says that Zechariah was prophesying. So not only was Zechariah singing, but he was speaking of things that were to come. His song begins, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” (68) Just like Mary’s song has been given a name Magnificat, Zechariah’s song has been called the Benedictus. This name comes from the Latin form of the first word of the song. In this translation, that is “praise”, but it is more literally “blessed”. Whoever decided to name these songs, weren’t very creative, they just took the first word and made it a title. Let’s look at the beginning of the song again, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” (68) This is a song of praise that Zechariah sings. It is full of joy and thankfulness. His son was just born and circumcised; Zechariah has much to be joyful and thankful about, but the first words he began to sing were not about his son, but about God. He was thankful that God has come to his people and redeemed them. Where is he getting that from?

You see, when the angel Gabriel came to Zechariah and told him that he was going to have a son, Gabriel also told him that that boy John would be the one to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. If John was here, then the Lord was not far behind. He may have even heard what Mary said to Elizabeth about the baby in Mary’s womb and might have known that the Lord was just inside his own home, albeit inside a womb. Zechariah knows that the arrival of his son heralds the arrival of someone greater than his own boy, and he is praising God for that. The Savior of the world was almost here.

The next part of Zechariah’s song focuses on just how God has come to redeem his people. “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—to show mercy to our ancestors 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. (69-75) There is a lot going on in these verses, but I wanted to read the whole part once and then unpack it some. We start out with God raising up a horn of salvation. Again, Zechariah is not talking about his son, but the promised Messiah. You might have heard it before, horns were considered a sign of strength in an animal. People would take the horns of certain animals and turn them into musical horns that would be carried by soldiers. In battle, the sound of a horn was considered to be a symbol to rally to the cause. It was a sign of hope in the battle and may even signify that reinforcements have arrived. The horn of salvation was a sign of the strength of God, but it can also be taken as the sound of reinforcements arriving in the spiritual battle that we all face. It is a horn of triumph that signifies our salvation.

Zechariah said that the horn of salvation was promised by the prophets to come from the house of David. David, as you might remember, was the greatest king of Israel. He wasn’t perfect, but he always sought out God. Because of his heart, God told David that the future eternal king would come from his line and this was nearly a thousand years prior. This eternal king would be the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. This wasn’t some random act, but God told his people about it nearly a thousand years before it happened. There was a plan behind it all, a plan that had far more pieces than our pay grade could ever understand. Have you ever seen those puzzles with 5000 pieces and wonder who could put that together? Well, that is child’s play compared to a 51,300-piece puzzle that weighs over 40 pounds that is currently the largest commercially available puzzle. That still pales in comparison to the world record a one-off puzzle with 551,232 pieces that was completed in Vietnam. But God’s plan is closer to a multi-trillion-piece puzzle in its complexity that moves in four dimensions. We can’t even comprehend all that God is trying to do, but yet he has enough interest in us that he let us know what he was going to do a thousand years before it would happen.

What God was going to do was bring about the salvation of his people. Zechariah sings of salvation from his enemies, from our enemies. He sang of being rescued from the hands of his enemies. When we read this, it feels like Zechariah is referring to other people that are enemies and the enemies of Israel. Many Jews of the time thought that the Messiah would come and conquer the physical world and establish and earthly kingdom. Judea was under the rule of the Romans and the Jews faced a lot of oppression because they refused to worship the emperor as a god. Many Jews thought that the Messiah would come to kick the Romans out and make Israel the dominant power in the world, but that is not what the real enemy was.

Jesus would heal a number of people from various illnesses. He would drive out demons and he would even raise the dead. Behind all these things is sin. Humanity’s collective sin had poisoned the world. The perfect world was corrupted, and disease and deformities entered into the world. Before sin there was no sickness, but after humanity sinned, people got sick and died for the first time. Death is the real enemy that Jesus came to save us from. The Messiah would come to give us salvation from death.

Zechariah continues in his song and he finally mentions his own son, “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, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 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.” (76-79) Zechariah calls his son a prophet of the Most High who will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him. That is very similar to what the angel Gabriel told Zechariah about John. Zechariah had finally believed what the angel said, but he also adds new knowledge about his son’s mission on this earth. Zechariah says that John would give the people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. John’s message was one of repentance. He called on the people to repent of their sins. He made people’s heart ready to accept Jesus as their Lord and then they finally met, John pointed to people immediately to Jesus. His mission was to get people to Jesus by recognizing their sins and seeing their need for a savior.

For all the enemies that we have, the most dangerous one we have is ourselves. We are our own worst enemy. We do a wonderful job of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, something that Chicago sports teams seem to excel at lately. We are sinners who invent new ways of doing evil. Sin lives within us and it is that very sin that collectively and individually has corrupted this world. Every evil thing that happens in this world is the result of our sin. Like a pig in the mud, we keep rolling around in our sin, getting dirtier and dirtier and, on our own, we have no way out. We become defiant and even fool ourselves into thinking that the muck and mire are better than being clean. We don’t see the problem, but John came to show us that we have a problem and we need to be saved from ourselves. The whole solution to that problem is the Messiah Jesus. The baby in Mary’s womb would become the one to cleanse us, to purify us, to get the gunk out of our souls. We don’t need to numb ourselves or distract ourselves from the hurt we have; we need to be healed.

The wonderful thing is that in all of our repeated failures, God never gave up on us, but he had mercy on us. Zechariah sang, “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) He calls it tender mercy. God is gentle with us in our weakness. He doesn’t condemn us or write us off as a lost cause, but he has mercy upon us and is patient with us. God realizes that we have been living in darkness and in the shadow of death. His heart breaks for us. We do not realize what we are doing, we are still responsible even when we are ignorant. When we live in our sins, we live in dark times, unable to see the consequences of our actions. Wolves gather at the door, howling and waiting to attack in the dark of the night. An army of tens of thousands marches on your location, thundering as they march, coming to wipe you out. It is dreadful and fearful. Mired by sin, the world wants to tear itself apart, devouring all in its path. It is no wonder that so many are filled with dread, uncertainty and hopelessness. We look out at the world and see no end in sight. It is just darkness upon darkness to the end of time. That is all we see on the news. We see shootings, lying and denying. We see hate from the lips of nearly everyone, including those who profess to be enlightened. We see that people are no longer valued as people, but they are merely data to be bought and sold, like a new form of slavery.

It seems so dark, but there is a saying that goes that it is always darkest before the dawn. The sun will rise on a new day to bring light into the darkness and drive it all away. Fear and dread will give way to hope and joy. Zechariah lived in a dark time too, but he saw Jesus as a light, a rising sun from heaven to shine on those living in darkness. That light exposes our sins, but also shows us the consequences of our deeds. We can see the aftermath of our selfishness and malice. No matter how dark it had been, there is a new day dawning, a new and glorious morn. That is the hope of Christmas. That is the spirit of Advent. That is the thrill of hope. For us, Jesus had already been born into this world. He already died for our sins, but there is still hope in what is to come. A new day, a day like any other, when Jesus returns and ushers in a new era, one where heaven and earth are renewed. Pain, death and darkness will be banished. There will be no more tears and no more fears. The burdens of our hearts will be fully lifted, and we will have eternal peace.

The Bible talks of praise, worship and singing a new song in heaven. In the new heaven and the new earth, there will be singing everywhere. It will be like a musical all the time. Did you know that some people believe that singing is actually what we do in our most pure state? Look at children; how often do you see the littlest of children randomly singing. Just yesterday, Liam started singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. He’s not even two yet, but there is a song in his heart. This pure state is one of the reasons that musicals are popular. People reach levels of emotion and are compelled to sing, but it doesn’t happen in real life because of the sin that weighs us down. The worries of the world fill us, and we don’t have that thrill of hope. We are burdened by life and that really tramples out the song in our hearts. That is why it is easier to see in kids. When we remove that burden, we are filled with hope and the song returns. It is no wonder that there is so much singing in the life to come. There is nothing holding us back anymore, and don’t worry, with all our imperfections removed, we sing perfectly.

Let us look to this new and glorious morn, when the sun rises on a new day. The darkness will finally be driven away. There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering. The anxiety in our hearts will be laid to rest. The dread of this world will subside. Joy, hope, peace and love will reign. On that day, we won’t be able to stop singing the praises of the one who came to save us from our sins. Mary saw it and sang. Zechariah saw it and sang. We too, can have our eyes opened at the rising sun. We can see the new day dawning, feel the warmth and enjoy a thrill of hope of what is about to come that leads us to song.

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