Zechariah's Song of Praise-- Luke 1:68-79

We live in a moment of anticipation.  A call has gone out from God, asking that we prepare ourselves and this world for the coming of the one who show us the path of peace.  Zechariah had received a promise, and now that Elizabeth has borne a son, and named him John, Zechariah can reveal the purpose of God.  He can sing the praises of the God of peace.  May we sing it in preparation for what God is about to do in our midst.

The following reading comes from the Common English Bible.

68 “Bless the Lord God of Israel
    because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
70     just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71 He has brought salvation from our enemies
    and from the power of all those who hate us.
72 He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and remembered his holy covenant,
73         the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted 74 that we would be rescued
        from the power of our enemies
    so that we could serve him without fear,
75         in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
            for as long as we live.
76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
    through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
    the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
        to guide us on the path of peace.”

Further thoughts on the Song of Zechariah:

This section of Luke’s gospel provides us with two important hymns. The first is the Magnificat, the song of Mary, with its powerful declarations of God’s intentions and faithfulness (Luke 1:46-55). Now, in the aftermath of John’s birth and the recognition that there’s something special about him, Zechariah, his father, now able to speak, begins to sing or chant this hymn. Note that he does so in the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.” It’s important to keep track of these words about the Spirit.

If Mary speaks of God’s preferential option for the poor, which is exemplified in God’s choice of her as the vessel through which the savior would be born, what is Zechariah’s word? What is his prophetic statement?

From the very beginning of this hymn there is an affirmation of God’s faithfulness to the covenant. God is the savior of Israel. And this message has been given down through the ages by the prophets. Yes, God has been at work saving Israel from its enemies. Why? Because God remembered the covenant made with Abraham. As a result, they can live without fear, but also live in holiness and righteousness. There is in this song a confession of the human side of the equation – what God expects of the people.

This is where John comes in. Zechariah has celebrated God’s faithfulness to the covenant, but understands that the people haven’t always been quite as faithful. John’s calling, his vocation, is to take up the mantle of the prophets, and “Go before the Lord to prepare his way.” Here is the message of Advent – one comes before the savior to prepare the way. And how does this prophet prepare the way for the savior? He will tell them how they will be saved “through the forgiveness of sins.” And how will this occur? It will occur because “of God’s deep compassion,” and therefore “the dawn of heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” It’s important to see here the source of salvation being rooted in God’s compassion. It’s God’s mercy and compassion that leads God to send forth this messenger, so that the people will be ready to receive this word.


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