Songs of the Season: Zechariah’s Song *

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

Listen to this sermon (mp3 file)

Luke 1:67-79

I don’t know about you… but it is music that gets me in the mood for the season… almost any season.

Before Thanksgiving, I held Christmas at bay by not listening to the stations that were already turning to Christmas music. Instead I pulled out my two thanksgiving CDs and started listening to hymns and music of thanksgiving. Hymns of praise. It got me in the mood.

But after Thanksgiving… I turned it on! — from sacred to secular to silly. I pull out the Sacred- “O come, O come Immanuel”… or “Prepare the way O Zion”…And I am placed in the mood of longing and expectation…Peter Paul and Mary- “Children Go Where I Send Thee…”

I also love the secular songs- “I’ll be home for Christmas”- and I think of the movie White Christmas… with those soldiers longing to be home… I think of those having to be away from home this Christmas… and a tear comes to my eye with longing…

And, may I confess to you there is also the silly that gets me in the mood for the season. As you know, no Christmas is complete for me until I hear the Jingle Bell dogs sing. Maybe the Chipmunks singing… maybe… but not really.

So music is key for me in setting the mood for Christmas. Next week I’m looking forward to our service of lessons and carols… full of music. If you are not in the mood for Christmas after next Sunday… go to urgent care and have them check you out!

I think Luke would like our use of music to set the stage. After all that is exactly what Luke does every Advent and Christmas. Have you ever noticed that?

Luke’s stories of Advent and Christmas are full of music. Read Luke’s gospel and you hear lots of singing… Mary sings… Elizabeth sings… Zechariah sings… Angels sings… Anna Sings… Simeon sings… everybody is singing in Luke… enough singing to fill a CD. (Maybe our choir could do that one Christmas… you think?)

So we are going to focus on a few of the songs from Luke for the rest of the season. This week our focus is on Zechariah and his song.

Before you can appreciate the power of the song, as is often the case, you need to understand the story behind the song … the story of an old couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth… parents of John the Baptist. If you listen to it, it will pull at your heart.

“It’s the story of an old couple living in the hill country of Judah 2000 years ago. They have no children and that was something of an embarrassment in that time and place. In fact, there was a name for it, a cruel, harsh word that had the sound of a curse to it: (the word is…) barren, a word used exclusively for childless women. No en vitro fertilization to help them… no modern science. Just the end of the road. End of the family line. Like many childless couples they had prayed for a child. (but God had not answered this prayer.) Not having a child, an heir was so bad in those days it was grounds for divorce.”

But Luke tells us that these are good people. Very good people. They have stayed together through the crisis of their marriage. They love each other. And now, over many years, they have adjusted… learned to live with loss… and as most of us do, accepted their fate. In spite of what must have felt like abandonment by God at one time… in spite of all the questions they must have asked earlier about “why God”… you still find them saying their evening prayers together… but no longer, in old age, praying for a child.

Amazingly, they have not given up on God.

Zechariah is a priest and still does his priestly duties for God: prepare the sacrifices, light candles, burn incense, sweep the floors, I suppose, even answer the phones and send out faxes and emails about upcoming services.

Then one day, an angel comes to him and says what angels always seem to say: “Fear not; don’t be afraid. Something new and wonderful and important is about to happen: Elizabeth is pregnant and she will conceive. You, Zechariah, are going to be a father! Furthermore, God has work for your child to do. Call him John and he will prepare the way for God’s own son. And, by the way, he will be a great source of joy and gladness for you.”

Talk about being startled! Zechariah is stunned. They long ago gave up on that dream. He can’t believe what he is seeing and hearing and he says so. Then the angel strikes him dumb. Speechless. Silent. Which is some curse for a preacher you know… (though I bet some of you wish God would strike me silent sometimes!) … stop talking.” 1.

Now… fast forward 9 months. 9 months of silence. And finally… finally… (can you imagine how long those 9 months must have felt? – Kids it is worse than waiting almost three more weeks until Christmas morning!) finally… the promised child is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth… and they name him John… which means – God is gracious. (a name with a hidden clue for us)

John is born as a sign of the great mercy of God… and the power of God to do new things even in the life of a barren couple… the life of a barren nation and a barren people who themselves, if you asked them, had given up hope (reached a dead end)… maybe given up on God a long time ago as they suffered under Roman occupation. A people who had longed for centuries for God to come down and do something to save them from their situation and themselves…

And what are the first words from Zechariah’s mouth. It is not, “It’s a boy!” But thank God… praise God… and look what God has done is about to do for God’s people through the coming of the messiah and through the prophet John.

The birth of John fills Zechariah with wonder and awe at the power of God to act in new ways. This couple who thought that they knew what was possible and not possible have been surprised by God.

And now with a mouth open and a tongue freed for the first time in months… he begins to sing a song… a powerful song:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David…
And you, child (my child), will be called the prophet of the most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins,… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

I wonder if you hear the tune to the song. What does it sound like to you? Is it quiet and slow with a minor note? “O come, O come”? Not for me. This is a song of praise, rejoicing and thanksgiving. (with a beat to it!) With brass playing and joy. Joy to the World.

This makes me revise some Advent thinking this year. And it has occurred to me that I may have been wrong about something:

For years, I’ve thought that Christmas music… I mean joyful Christmas music should wait until Christmas Eve. Sort of build up the anticipation… hold off on the carols and make sure we sing those songs that fill us with anticipation and longing… sort of like making the kids wait to open the gifts on Christmas morning. Part of what makes Christmas morning special is the waiting… you have to admit. So for years, church professionals have battled with the congregation about waiting to sing joyful Christmas hymns.

But Zechariah has me thinking…. Rethinking… Maybe, maybe once in a while it would be okay… (and this is hard for me to say-don’t report me to the liturgical police Willem and Ron and Stephanie and Cathy and Warren)… to sing a joyful song of praise for what God is about to do and what God has done… even before Christmas. Now I still want to have those songs of waiting, but I guess it would be okay to open a Christmas song or two early once in a while! :

For that is what Zechariah is doing. Celebrating what God has done in the birth of John who will prepare us for what God is about to do. John will be preparing us to receive a gift… the knowledge of our salvation that comes when sins are forgiven… the one who will bring the tender mercy of God to us… the God who will offer light and life to those who sit in darkness and despair and confusion… or even in the shadow of death…. John will tell us about the one who will guide our feet in the way of peace.

Anyone here ever wanted or felt the need for someone to bring light into the darkness and confusion of our world or our lives? Even to bring light and understanding into the confusion of our faith– a faith that maybe that had maybe settled as it did for Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Anyone here think we need someone to guide us in the ways of peace these days as we debate how many more soldiers to send to war… as our partisan politics polarizes people in this nation… as religions even divide people…?

Anyone here looking for someone to guide us in the ways of peace?

Well, good news. That one has come. And God has sent John to us to lead us to that one who will forgive us and teach us the ways of God … someone who bring a light to our darkness… someone who will bring peace on earth and good will to all who listen…

I don’t know about you… but to me that is good news. I mean really good news. I mean news so good… it might cause you to sing. (Go tell it on the mountain)… So go ahead… loosen your tongue and free your lips this season and sing. Sing it loud and sing it strong the song of Zechariah: God has not forgotten us… God is near… God is here… Indeed, Go tell it on the mountain… over the hill and everywhere… You’ll make Zechariah proud! Amen.

1. Background is adapted from sermon from John Buchanon at Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago