"The Benedictus."
December 13, 2021, 1:49 PM

“The Benedictus.”

Luke 1:67-79

Our reading from Luke today is known as “the Benedictus.” Benedictus is the Latin term for blessing, and it is the first word of Zechariah’s song in the Latin translation of the Bible. This prophecy from Zechariah comes from a place of deep worship and gratitude for all that God has done in the life of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, but also for all that God has done in the life of Israel. Zechariah and Elizabeth were an older couple (read Luke 1:5-25) that had no children. Zechariah was a priest and while he was serving in the temple, he had a vision from the angel Gabriel. Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a child and they were to name the baby John. When he expressed doubt about this, the angel told him he would be unable to speak until John was born. After nine months of not being able to speak, John is born and the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth are praises to God.

Zechariah first praises God for keeping His promise to David. Zechariah realizes that after hundreds of years of waiting, God is about to raise up the Son of David that will have an everlasting throne. The promise God made to David is about to come to pass. Then Zechariah praises God for keeping His promise to Abraham. God has dealt mercifully with Israel, even though they had sinned, and God has kept His promise to make Israel a great nation and to bless the world through Israel. Next, Zechariah praises God for keeping His promise to Zechariah in giving him a son. When John is born, it changed everything for Elizabeth and Zechariah. To be without children at this time carried with it a huge social stigma. Not only was there the social side, but when they needed to be cared for there would be no one to take care of them. Now, their years of shame for not having a child were over.

But it was more than that, because God had revealed to them that their child would be special. This child, John, was going to be the forerunner (or the herald) of the Messiah. He would have an important role to play in how God was going to bring His people back to Him. John was going to have an important ministry in preparing Israel for the coming Messiah. Finally, Zechariah closes his song by praising God for the coming of the “sunrise” or “dawn from on high” in some English translations. This “sunrise” or “dawn from on high” was a way of talking about the arrival of the Messiah. Zechariah praises God for keeping His promise to send a Messiah to Israel.

As we read this song from Zechariah, there are four themes that stick out.

  1. God is at work in the darkness of our lives. When things are hard and difficult, we often feel like we are alone. It is tempting to feel like God has left us or turned His back on us. The Bible lets us know, however, that God is with His people. In the darkest of hours, God is still with His people. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. God was with Him. When Israel was in slavery. God was with them. When Christ was being tempted in the wilderness. God was with Him. When we face all the hard times in our lives. God is with us. The fact that God spoke to Zechariah was a huge deal. It had been four hundred years since the last prophet had risen in Israel. The fact that John was about to be born, was a sign that God had not abandoned His people or forgotten His promises. God was working even during the dark times of the Roman occupation of Israel. Gabriel announced that God was about to visit His people and redeem them.
  2. God is faithful to His covenants. God is always faithful to His promises. He may not fulfill His promises when we think He should. But God is steadfast in His faithfulness. Even when His people break the covenant through sinning, God is never unfaithful. Because God is faithful, we can know that all God’s promises to us in the Bible will someday be fulfilled. We can have confidence in the future, and in the present, because God is with us.
  3. God’s promises are trustworthy, even when they feel like they are delayed. This theme grows out of the last theme. God does not experience time like we do. Impatience seems to be a uniquely human problem. We are told that God is patient with us. God does not deal with us and our sin immediately – and this is out of grace and mercy so that we can come to faith in Jesus. We do not need to fear evil because our God reigns.
  4. Christ has set us free to worship God without fear. Zechariah does not mention Jesus by name or even say the word Christ in this prophecy. But we know that Zechariah was awaiting the coming Messiah. Verse 77 looks forward to the work of Jesus providing salvation through the forgiveness of sins. Because we have been set free from sin, we can worship God in confidence, without fear of evil. We can have no fear of evil because we know that Jesus has already defeated death and sin. Eventually, all evil will be wiped out of existence and God’s people will dwell eternally secure with Him in the new heavens and the new earth.

This whole song is in the past tense. This is known as the prophetic past tense. When God speaks, even if His promise is for the future, it is as good as done. When God speaks, we can be confident that He will fulfill His promise. Zechariah praised God for delivering the people. They were sitting in deep darkness. They were under the oppression of Rome. But their greatest enemy was sin. People were in great darkness and death and lacked peace because of their sin. God sent the Son, Jesus Christ, to defeat the darkness of sin and death and to bring peace.

People are still in darkness today. People are still sitting in the shadow of death. Sin is still causing a lack of peace. But we know that the sunrise has come to shine His saving light and to bring life and freedom where there was once death. This is the good news of Advent. That Christ has come and delivered us from darkness and death and set us free so that we may worship God in truth and righteousness and have peace. Through Christ we can have peace with God and live in peace with each other.

Let us, like Zechariah and John the Baptist, use our voices to proclaim that Jesus Christ has been born. That God has visited and redeemed His people and that there is forgiveness in and through Jesus Christ. Let us praise God for all that He has done and let us invite others into this peace through faith in Jesus Christ. Share the good news of Advent.