2nd Sunday of Christmas
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, our new born Lord and Savior, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, take a mental picture of all this, take a mental picture of the tree with the lights, of the cross with the poinsettias, of the Advent wreath. Why? Because in a few hours it will all be gone. We’re going to be removing the Christmas decorations, perhaps you’ll be doing the same at your house, if you haven’t done so already. Christmas has come and gone once again another year. In fact, we can even say that Christmas happened last year. Although our primary celebration of Christmas is over, may the truths of Christmas stick with us throughout the year. So, how does Christmas leave you? How do the truths of Christmas affect you? Do the truths of Christmas leave you amazed? Does this baby Jesus astound you?
Quite clearly Jesus astounded the priest Zechariah. Remember what had happened to Zechariah? He had been in the temple one day, which was actually quite an amazing thing. Each division of priests was responsible for 2 weeks of burning incense at the temple each day, so 14 priests of each division were chosen by lot to burn incense in the temple. Well, because of the number of priests in Israel, if you were a priest, you had a shot at burning incense in the temple about once every 30 years. So, a once or twice in a lifetime thing for Zechariah. He’s in the temple carefully doing this awesome thing of burning incense when all of a sudden an angel from God appeared to him and he was startled and gripped with fear. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid. God has heard your prayer, your wife is going to have a child in her old age, he’s to be named John and his whole job is going to be making the people prepared for the Lord.” In other words, he’s going to prepare people for the coming Messiah.
And how did Zechariah react? “No way! It can’t happen, I’m too old.” Isn’t he talking to an angel sent by God? Why wasn’t he astounded? Why wasn’t He amazed by what God told him? Rather, he was skeptical, full of doubt about God’s Word. So what did God do? God blessed him by taking away his voice. For 9 months he had no voice, he couldn’t speak. Now he had plenty of time to reflect and remember the promises and power of God. Martin Luther once said that when the Lord wants to make us happy, he first of all makes us sad; when he wants to make us rich, he first of all makes us poor; and when he wants to give us life, he lets us die. Zechariah had lived his whole life waiting and hoping to be blessed with a child, but his wife was barren and now old. He, like many Israelites, spent his whole life waiting and hoping for the Promised Savior to come.
But think about how tough it would have been for them to keep that hope alive. They were a defeated nation – the Romans occupied them and their ruler was no longer a descendant of great King David. Had God given up on His promise to David? The Israelites themselves were divided into different parties who had created a bunch of rules and laws and they were teaching the people that they were saved by their obedience to their laws, worship for many had turned into mere formalism, going through the actions, not really thinking about what they were doing. Think about how tough it would have been for them to keep hope in God! Was Zechariah giving up on his prayers to God? Had he given up his hopes? Was he also slipping into the same spiritual lethargy out of which his son was going to wake people up?
But what about us? Is it really easy for us to keep hope in God? We see the wickedness of our world around us and we wonder if God is ever going to step in and do something about it. Evil people seem to have almost unlimited power. We see the rise of terrorism, we’re concerned about the growth of Islam, and we’re troubled by the depleting morals of the people in our nation. Are you losing your hope in God? Are you skeptical about the good news God brings you? Does the message of Christmas leave you unchanged? When we focus on the earthly and visible it leads only to doubt, worry, and hopelessness.
So what happens to Zechariah? 9 months of no voice. Plenty of time to think about his sin of not believing God’s messenger. When God wants to make someone happy, he first must make that person sad. It wasn’t enough for Zechariah to confess the wickedness of the world he lived in or blame his failure to believe on his environment or conditions of his world, he had to own up to his own sinfulness. That’s true for us too, we won’t know the joy of Christmas until we are willing to own up to our own failures, willing to admit to all the world that each of us is a complete moral failure, until we realize we are so often doubters and skeptics, murderers with our thoughts, terrorists with our sin, you see, we’ll never really know what the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem really means until we are ashamed of what we are. When God wants to make us happy, he first must make us sad. That’s what he did for Zechariah.
But then what? John the Baptist was born and Zechariah – the last great prophet to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Savior, was born! And what does Zechariah do? He breaks forth into this beautiful song of praise to God: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Notice the “has” and “redeemed” they are in the past tense, but Jesus has only been conceived at this point. How can he speak in the past tense? Because that’s the way it works with God’s promises. As soon as God promises something you can speak about it in the past tense because that’s how sure God’s promises are! They’re absolutely certain, when God promises something it’s as good as done. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Well, we understand the house of David part –that Jesus will be from the house and line of David, but what about the “horn” part? A horn was a symbol of power, might and strength. A horn is what gave an animal its strength. Jesus is that horn, he has all the power and might to save us. “As he said through his holy prophets of long ago.” Jesus is the offspring of the woman to crush the Serpent’s head, Abraham’s descendant who would bless all nations, the scepter from the tribe of Judah, the one who will establish David’s house and kingdom forever, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. “Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Jesus has come to bring us rescue from our worst enemies in life, far worse than terrorists or Islamist militants or people who persecute us, He’s saved us from our real enemies, the things that can make us suffer forever: sin, death, the power of Satan, anything that would want to rob us of our salvation. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for our forgiveness protects us from all their attacks. “To show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of all those who had trusted in God’s promise to send a Savior, God remembered his covenant – not that God forgot, but that he acted after a long time of waiting. “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.” Since we’ve been forgiven of all our sins, our enemies have been conquered, and we can serve God –not out of slavish fear of him, but out love for who He is and what He’s done for us.
What an awesome song of praise! Can you picture him singing this with a smile on his face, full of joy and excitement? Why did he praise God? He praised God because he was astounded – full of amazement and astonishment- about what God was up to. You see, if Zechariah merely focused on the outward and visible, he wouldn’t have had a whole lot to praise God about. But what really astounded him was the spiritual and eternal things God had done and was doing.
It can be so easy for us to put the Christmas decorations in the boxes and in storage and put our Christmas joy there too. And on top of that we can focus on the troubling events of our world, the problems that we face in our lives, the difficulties that lie ahead of us and forget the truly amazing message of Christmas.
But don’t do that. Be astounded with Zechariah. Be amazed and astonished at this baby born in Bethlehem. He’s given us something far better than life of ease in this world- He’s given us freedom for our souls, release from the captivity of sinfulness, and pardon for our eternal death sentence! In a world of bad news and broken promises, God has kept all His promises and will keep them all- Jesus came and He came to save us! In place of Satan’s tyrannical rule, we get freedom to serve God without fear! In place of fear, doubt, skepticism, we get peace, peace for our consciences, peace with God, peace forever!
Zechariah was astounded by Jesus’ coming, are you? No matter what Christmas decorations you put away, no matter what happens in our world this new year and no matter what happens in your life this new year: Focus on the spiritual and eternal truths of Christmas: You have a Savior born to redeem you, born to save you, born to rescue you, born to enable you to serve God without fear. May this Jesus continue to astound you your whole life and may He lead you to say with Zechariah in both your words and in your life, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Amen.