It’s a slightly lesser known song and singer that I want us to take a few minutes to think about. Zechariah has just become a new dad and he’s full of joy, many of us know that feeling of looking down at a newborn and being flooded with emotion. But for Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth this is multiplied because they thought they’d never have children. It’s no wonder he breaks into song. But the surprise is that this isn’t just a song about his son John, Zechariah sings because John’s birth is part of something much bigger, part of God’s plan. A plan the whole of the Old Testament is about as God makes promise after promise. And Zechariah joyfully sings that…
God always keeps his promisesI remember when my eldest son was born phoning the grandparents to tell them they had a grandson. I remember telling them what he was like, the perfectly formed little fingers and toes, the fuzzy hair, the little smile that was really just wind. Every dad thinks their new born is amazing. But Zechariah knows his son is chosen by God for something universally significant.
God doesn’t randomly wake up one morning and decide on a whim to send his son to earth as a baby. No, God has always planned for this. Zechariah’s song points us to some of those key promises in history. (69)God is keeping his promise to David made a thousand years before to bring a strong king from his line who’ll save his people. (70)God is keeping his promise made through the prophets like Isaiah and Micah who prophesied about where he’d be born and what his birth would be like 700 years before; that he’d be a kingly rescuer. And to Malachi who promised 400 years before that God would come to his people and before that someone would come to get them ready. And promises made to Abraham 2000 years before to bring God’s people into God’s place where they’d enjoy life lived under his rule(72-75).
You can see why Zechariah is so excited can’t you? John’s birth is a bit like the opening ceremony at the Olympics it’s the starting point of something spectacular.
Advent calendars are great at priming children to get more and more excited the closer you get to Christmas aren’t they? With each door opened it’s one less sleep to Christmas, one day nearer. With each new door the excitement, expectation and insomnia increases.
Israel have been counting down not for 24 days, but 400 years since God last spoke. That’s like having an advent calendar with 146, 100 doors to open. It’s no wonder Zechariah’s excited. That great promise of God’s rescuing ruler who’ll bring his people back to God is coming true.
If that’s the first thing we see in Zechariah’s song the second is the call to...
Get ready he’s comingIt’s all very well knowing a promise is being fulfilled but you want to know how don’t you? You want to know what it will change, what it will mean.
John, Zechariah’s son, is the get ready guy. He’s like the warm up act. But his job isn’t to get a few laughs, it‘s to get people ready for God’s long promised king. How? He’s going to tell people (77)that the one coming isn’t just another prophet but God himself made man so they must be ready. He does that by helping them see the real issue in the world.
I wonder how you’d answer that question as you look at the world, what is the real issue? Is terrorism the real issue facing the world? Or maybe as we think back over the last year Ebola is on our mind. A virus which killed thousands. Is disease the greatest issue? Or maybe we think closer to home, problems aren’t just out there are they, they’re within the four walls of our homes, in our relationships.
If we’re honest with ourselves we know the problem isn’t just out there it’s in here, it’s in our hearts. That’s what John helps people see, the real problem isn’t the Romans, or local leaders, the boss, how noisy the children are, or the miscommunication with our spouse or partner. He helps people see the problem is us.
He’s like the MOT mechanic who looks at your car and tells you that your car is only fit for scrap. John helps people then, and us now, see the real problem with the world; sin. Our world and we are dislocated from God. We are out of relationship with God because we’ve decided to live as if we’re our own god, and the effects are all around us. That’s bad news isn’t it! How can Zechariah be excited about that? What a downer, talk about ruining Christmas. How can we celebrate that?
The answer is we can’t. And John’s news would be terrible if that’s where he stopped. It would be terrible if he was like Santa’s little helper compiling a naughty list for God or telling us to behave really well so we can get on God’s good list. But John doesn’t do that.
John tells us what’s wrong and then points us to God’s Son born in a manger come not to do a spot inspection but to save us from facing God’s just anger because of our sin. (78)Jesus comes because God is merciful. His mercy doesn’t give us what we deserve. He doesn’t even tell us to work off our debt because we can’t. God the Father sends God the Son to be born in Bethlehem to bring light into the darkness and to lead us out of living in the shadow and fear of death and bring us to God. How does he do that?
Years later it’ll not be the smooth wood of the manger he feels on his back but the harsh splintered wood of a cross. He will enter the shadow of death and die for us though he never sinned. But he rises again defeating death, having borne the judgement we deserve and bring us peace with God if we trust him. That’s a peace that is unshakeable no matter what happens because it doesn’t depend on us, it’s completely won for us by Jesus. It doesn’t mean life will be easy, but it will mean we know God as our loving father who is with us in everything and who works for our good in everything. It means we get to know God, to be his loved child.
Can you see why Zechariah is excited? God at Christmas is doing something amazing, ending a conflict nearly as old as the world itself. Offering each of us peace with him if we trust Jesus. But the question is what will we do with Jesus? The joy of Christmas is that Jesus comes to rescue us and fix our relationship with God. To bring peace when we trust in him. But you have to do more than just look at him, you have to trust in him to find that peace and joy, a joy that changes everything and is worth singing about.
As those who know Jesus, who live this side of the cross, how can we not sing like Zechariah when we think of the wonder of salvation? Whatever else is happening we have that to fuel our joy and our praise.