Before our text, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and said, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. … He will go before the Lord God in the spirit and power of Elijah … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah replied, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” This answer came from disbelief. He was not simply questioning how the Lord would do this great wonder of giving a man and woman a child in their old age. No, Zechariah meant that he thought it could not be. So Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until the birth, because of his unbelief.
So our text finds Zechariah, having sat in silence for nine months. His lips were sealed as a constant reminder of his failure to believe the promise of God.
Now, Zechariah was not a total unbeliever. He had been praying earnestly to God in the Temple. He later showed his devotion to God in his great song, the Benedictus. But, like all saints, Zechariah had weakness in him. The old Adam lurks in every believer, like a lead weight trying to drag us down. We try to believe and act as we should, but the flesh fights against the better impulses from the Spirit.
Zechariah had a more vivid illustration of this than most. His unbelief sealed his lips. In a similar way, the unbelieving flesh in us may hinder our prayers and cause our praise to falter. How much purer and stronger would our worship be if we had no sin to encumber us!
We also are not total unbelievers. Like Zechariah, we are too often slow to understand and cling to God’s gracious promises. Or we sometimes invent our own promises and cling to them, instead of the specific ones He shows us in His holy Word. Or we give lips service to His promises, but in our heart there is little conviction.
God does not cast us out or strike us down. He could have done that with Zechariah. Gabriel could have killed him on the spot, and then God would try another old couple in Israel. But no, God mercifully left the priest alive. More than that, He gave Zechariah time to silently contemplate the angel’s message.
Gabriel did not say much to Zechariah. But from what little he was given, Zechariah pondered and grasped what the true meaning was. He was probably helped by the appearance of Mary in the sixth month, when Elizabeth declared that the virgin from Nazareth was the mother of the Lord. Zechariah was likely either there to hear the words, or told them later. That he then understood what was going on was a gift of the Spirit of God. When Zechariah’s lips finally opened to speak, he declared in wonderful song the true meaning of the coming of John, that he was the forerunner of the Dayspring from on high. Zechariah recognized that the long-promised coming of the Lord God to His people had come to pass. The great event of all events, the center and meaning of earth’s history, was taking place in his life time, before his eyes.
Oh, that we had been there! Oh, that we could see what was going on and recognize and witness it, and herald His coming with songs of praise! So often we think that Christ’s coming was wasted on those clueless people, and to a large extent it was. They did not recognize the most important Man of all when He came among them, even though He had been foretold repeatedly by God. If only we had been there to see and recognize!
But He comes to us also. We have a chance to recognize Him. He comes in His Body and Blood. Even on a Sunday when we are not blessed by the Sacrament of the Altar, He is still here to speak His Gospel to us. These are not the words of a silly man like me. Who would walk a single step to hear me? But when Christ the Lord speaks, the Dayspring from on high, the Lord God of Israel – who would not crawl for miles to hear His sweet and wonderful voice?
That is the voice you hear when He preaches His Gospel through me, His unworthy servant. As He promised, “He who hears you, hears Me.” He speaks His Absolution, and He, the Son of David, forgives our sins.
Do we recognize? Do we herald His coming? Or do we think, “Ho hum, another Sunday morning,” as if the Lord were not here? We have been given His promise that He would be here and speak mercy to us. Our sinful flesh wants to keep us bored and listless in spite of the presence of Christ. May we instead see and recognize and praise the holy Lord in our midst. May our tongues be loosed to speak His praise and pray fervently to His gracious ears.
Zechariah recognized and confessed that the angel’s message was true. He did this by writing down, “His name is John,” which was the name the angel had specified. By writing these few words, Zechariah affirmed that the angel’s word had been true, and he obeyed the instruction, and believed the promise.
Out of his silent contemplation of the fantastic events taking place before his eyes, Zechariah declared the praise of God. He said that the Lord God had visited and redeemed His people and had raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. In other words, Messiah has come! The Redemption-price of mankind was in the veins of the Christ Child, ready to be shed for all mankind (and also for you). God did not forget His promises! The promises were not wishful thinking made up out of the imaginations of prophets. No, God spoke through men to assure them that He would keep His Word by sending the Christ, and He did.
So He unfolded His plan to save us from our enemies who hate us. Who are our enemies? No less than sin, death, and the devil. The host of demons stands against us. The pit of hell wants to claim us, and according to the uncleanness of our old Adam, it has a right to us. But the Lord God of Israel has delivered us from these enemies. They, who were far mightier than we, were no match for Him.
This is the mercy of God for us. We were helpless and doomed. We would surely sink down into darkness and suffering forever, if not for Him. He was our only hope, and He has not let us down. He showed His undeserved love for us, even us who used to be numbered among His enemies. In His mercy, and only because of His mercy, He now considers us friends. What glory!
He even calls us His servants. Ah, to serve the Lord without fear is our wondrous gift! We should be afraid of punishment, since every act of service we could offer is stained by the ugliness of our unclean nature. But no, He has cleansed and sanctified us for service. He has set us aside as His anointed priests. We serve Him with our lives, and He loves even our small works. He considers every act of ours to be a precious treasure done for Him. There is no fear of punishment in that, but only the relationship of a tender Father towards His beloved children.
For the Dayspring from on high has shined upon us. He is the first light of the dawning of the new, coming day. His light illuminated the darkness of our valley of death, which is this doomed, mortal life. His resurrection was the first fruits of the new Day of resurrection and immortality. Now we no longer huddle in the fear of the grave. Instead, we look forward to resurrection and everlasting life.
Peace is ours. Knowledge of salvation is ours. The remission of sins is ours. Holiness and righteousness are ours. All this has come to us from Christ, the Highest One, who at this time was in the womb of Mary. That was some discernment by Zechariah, since his eyes had not even seen the Child yet. He had seen baby John, but not Jesus. But Zechariah knew and understood and proclaimed that the greatest One of all had come. Zechariah saw all Christ’s work as if it were already accomplished, so firm was his faith.
May we be so firm in ours.
Zechariah surely overflowed with joy for the birth of his son. Yet he rightly saw that an even greater birth was around the corner. He mentioned John in his Benedictus. Yet the main character is Christ, the Lord God of Israel. Zechariah is ecstatic that his son is the forerunner of Christ. But even more important is the fact that the promised Christ had come to His people.
We sometimes put our personal situations ahead of the things of God. We sometimes put our emotions and circumstance in the center stage of our thoughts. But if we think like Zechariah, we should see that the most important thing for us is the coming of Christ. He has come to be born of the Blessed Virgin, and to redeem the world in His Blood. These are fantastic events! These are earth-shattering! More than that, He has altered all of our circumstances. We are no longer weak creatures who are tossed about by every trouble until we enter the grave. Now, although we are still weak, our destiny is different. The answer to our circumstances is Christ, the Immortal Dayspring who has made us immortal. The Highest One has become one of us, so now our troubles do not dominate us. He is stronger than all our troubles put together. He will lift us out of this life to the life He has purchased for us.
The Spirit direct us to see that the most monumental thing has happened, and all else pales before it. And He will open our lips to show forth His praise. Amen.
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