We’re going to sing it at the end of the service today. We’ve sung it in other services too. Mostly that’s because the church on earth has been singing it, throughout the ages. Someone long ago put it into the orders of Morning Praise, perhaps because of the “rising sun” imagery it contains. And also, because of its hope in redemption, it’s been appropriately used at the funerals of believers throughout the centuries too. It’s called the benedictus, from the first word in the Latin version. We could call it the “blessed be…” then. But generally, we know it as, “The Song of Zechariah”.
Like the song of Mary, it’s a beautiful expression of praise to God – a doxology. Doxologies are “words of glory”, literally; they’re songs of praise to God. And Zechariah’s song is fitting, after the joy of Christmas, for us believers to consider. This morning, even more, Zechariah’s song brings out praise from our lips. In Luke’s Greek language, he would say “praise be” as “blessed be”, which is what we’ll do too. So, Our Christmas Doxology emphasizes first:
Blessed Be the Lord for All He Has Done
What believers Old Testament and New have meant by this kind of language is, “The Lord is worthy of honor and receiving every good gift (not as though he needed something, but as that he is deserving of everything).” And why? Because of all those believers had been able to observe and see; because of all the Lord had done. And there’s a slew of actions – mighty work on the Lord’s part in these verses. It’s salvation (v.71) and rescue (v.74) and mercy (v.72) and shining guidance (vv.78-79). Acts that are observable, mighty, and beneficial.
But perhaps the greatest thing the Lord has done, I think we could easily miss. Almost as though it were just a passing thought. In fact, in this section, one part of it’s actually a parenthetical statement. Sort of like, “Does this belong? It was maybe a sidebar…” Zechariah said in v.70: “as [the Lord] said through the prophets of long ago” and later in v.72, “to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.” This is not a passing thought – it’s actually everything. The Lord remembered his covenant – his testament with Abraham that he would bless him and his progeny eternally – the promise of a Savior. God kept his promise “in the house of God’s servant David.” – in the one born of David’s line – “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is 11:1) – through Mary with Joseph. Paul said it today, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”. (Ga 4:4) In the Christmas Savior, God’s promises were fulfilled.
That would be the kind of thing you sing a song about… Because all the doing in the world is great and fine, but if the mechanic promises your car repair will cost $475 and you come back to find it’s actually $2400… When someone doesn’t follow through or something turns out not to be true, that’s disappointing. But if they do follow through, if that mechanic says your repair will cost this much and you see that they work to keep it so or that they give you even more for less…that’s the kind of thing you prize – write a review about, right? The promise was kept and it was cause for praise.
We sang it that way on Friday night – New Year’s Eve. God has kept his promise – “the promise made to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his children forever. Amen!” We actually don’t sing the Song of Zechariah super often – one among many things. Christmas can be kind of this way too. It passes, it’s infrequent, 1x/yr; and it’s filled with all kinds of bright and flashy action. And in our familiarity with those bright angels or wise men or lowly birth, it could mean that what God’s actually doing at Christmas – fulfilling what he’s promised – that could become the side-thought, a parenthetical “oh yeah, it was also for this…”. Outside of the story, we’re tempted to celebrate and praise a lot of other things – what we can do, what others provide, the things we have. Zechariah did that, actually – was caught up in everyday life, didn’t believe God’s promise that he would have a son – John the Baptist; he thought it was too much, impossible. Essentially, Zechariah first praised what he’d experienced and knew more than what God had promised to do… When God fulfilled his promise, Zechariah sang.
On the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, in a new year, let’s reflect on that possibility. Let’s enter another year knowing its significance: God has fulfilled his promises and will continue. Knowing how distracted by all the activity we can be, let’s turn away from such things. Let’s lift our heads and sing with Zechariah. Sing by recognizing that true joy and your praise stem from the amazing things God has promised and fulfilled here! Specifically, that…
Blessed Are We to Serve
That’s the reason for praise, actually, isn’t it? Our perspective? Zechariah saw God’s promises fulfilled – his own son was born to his old wife; something he’d formerly thought impossible. And the Savior of the world was in the belly of his wife’s cousin, waiting to be born. That old Israelite was blessed by the fulfillment of God’s promise. So he sang… And so do we.
Consider what Zechariah proclaimed: God “has come to his people and redeemed them.” (v.68) At Christmas, the promise fulfilled because God has come – Jesus is true God become true man. And to win redemption – to buy sinners back from their guilt before the justice of God by the payment of Jesus’ blood. Essentially, God’s action fulfilled is “rescue” from the most important enemies – sin, death, and devil. Personally, for us, it’s in v.77: what Zechariah’s son would bring as he pointed to the Savior was “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of [our] sins.” That the sins we know and have – they would be forgiven – and would acquaint us with the rescue that took place – that Jesus, God’s promised one, provided at his own cross in death, and sealed when he walked out of his grave alive again.
And that’s the theme of our song: when God remembers his promises, we’re blessed. It’s our salvation, our redemption, our rescue – believers in God, the Israel of faith singing along with the Israel of old. No longer are we slaves to sin, that we must obey its whims – all the things we encounter in this world – and hate God’s will; by faith, we love the Lord and his works. No longer are we stuck in death – trudging through life avoiding the end; Christ has risen from death and mine will be a sleep. No longer does the devil rule me, so that I serve for his devilish ends in his self-destructive ways; I have one master, the Lord Almighty, who has already served me, and now him I serve. That’s actually the content of our song…
The story is beautiful. St. Paul has a number of stanzas – take the Galatians one. We’re no longer nobodies; God chose to love us and make us his own. God the Father made himself our Father by the work of his Son. So that we are sons – members of the family with rights of inheritance. Or in Zechariah’s verse. vv.74-75, “[He has enabled] us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days,” so that we walk “in the path of peace.” (v.79)
Consider the rhythm of that story. It’s at the office and in the kitchen and on the playground, with friends, by our money, with our time, whether sleeping or awake, in any and all – it’s service to our God. And it’s not a minor key, dower, dark – it’s all “without fear” – if I die today, as Pastor Free said on NYEve, I know where I’ll be; if I get sick today, I know whose hands I rest in; if my beloved brother or sister in Christ dies…just the same. Our daily lives are carried along in this sweet melody of holiness – by Jesus’ work you’re perfect in God’s sight – he looks over your faults, he knows our foibles, he’s made them forgiven; or call it righteousness – you belong with God, that’s your standing, his own family – whether anyone else ever likes you at all, he is your loving Father by the work of your brother, our Christmas Savior. And those beautiful notes mark out a peaceful path – forgiveness of my sins, I am not under God’s judgment; holy & righteous, I am everything God loves; at peace with God, I am making my way to my home with him. In all of these, I am blessed not just to receive but to serve in all the ways God loves.
Zechariah recognized it. How blessed we are in the blessed promise-keeping of our God! He has sent his Son at Christmas and has made us his own. It’s not a passing thing. It’s everything. Zechariah sang out. Let’s do the same. As we pass into a new year then, let this one be a constant remembering of what God has done, an always rejoicing over how he has blessed you, a daily reconsidering of how you’re serving – in whatever you’re doing, a song of glory and praise to God. The festival may be passing, but Christ, the light of Christmas, will keep on shining, so let’s keep on singing Our Christmas Doxology.