Christmas is incomplete without music. Some of the most memorable music comes from the Advent season. Songs that inspire and encourage. Songs of Hope. Songs of Peace. Songs of Joy. Songs of Love. If you enjoy classical music, you have Handel’s Messiah. If you are a traditionalist, nothing beats a good Christmas carol. If you’re a parent you’ve heard more than your share of Alvin and the Chipmunks. I don’t know how to categorize those who enjoy, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer!”
This Advent I’m posting about the Songs of the Season from the gospel of Luke. Luke’s account of the Christmas story contains the lyrical content of four songs that were inspired by the first Christmas. This week I’m going to begin with Zechariah’s song from Luke 1:67-79. If you participated in choir during high school or college you may recognize the text as Benedictus. Benedictus is the Latin word for “blessed,” which is the first word of the song in the KJV.
The Christmas story represents God’s first word in 400 years. That thin sheet of paper that separates Malachi from Matthew spans four centuries of divine silence. This silence was broken by God’s best plan of action…a birth announcement! That doesn’t sound like much, but as you recall, some of God’s greatest acts in history began with babies.
• When Israel needed a deliverer, we are introduced to baby Moses.
• When Israel needed a great prophet, we are introduced to baby Samuel.
• When Israel needed a king to build a Temple, we are introduced to baby Solomon.
God had been silent for 400 years. Decades of dry religious conformity had left the people filled with despondency. There was little, if any, real hope in the world. No wonder Isaiah would speak of this time by saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).
How does a baby inspire a song of hope? First, it reminds us that God never forgets his people. “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69, NLT).
Zechariah was so enthused about the birth of his son John (the Baptist) that he broke out in song. His song was filled with hopeful optimism because he realized that God had not forgotten his people. The interesting thing about Zechariah’s song is the verb tense. God HAS visited…God HAS redeemed…God HAS sent a mighty Savior…” It’s important because he sang his song before the birth of Jesus. That’s hope!
Second, we have hope because God always keeps his promises. The writer of Hebrews defines faith as “the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about the things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). Zechariah is a good illustration of one whose hope is confident about God’s faithfulness to remember his own.
Many times we may wonder if God has forgotten us. We cannot interpret God’s silence with inactivity. God is always at work and he never ever forgets his children.
“…just as he promised through the holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant–the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham” (Luke 1:70-73, NLT).
One of the reasons Zechariah could sing a song of hope was his belief that God always keeps His promises. Check out the phrases from the text:
• “Just as he promised…”
• “…Remembering his sacred covenant…”
• “…(his) oath to our ancestor Abraham…”
Zechariah reached all the way back to Abraham to recall the promises that God had made and fulfilled. In his thinking, hope is built upon God’s continual faithfulness. Recognizing that God has been faithful in the past provides confident hope in the present that God will continue to be faithful and keep his promises in the present.
Sometimes the best remedy for despair in desperate times is a history lesson. For the believer, that history is not limited to God’s faithfulness during our lifetime. It includes the entirety of human history. After all, God’s faithfulness in human history is your history too.