Bible reading: Luke 1:67–80
After John the Baptist was born, Zechariah wrote on a tablet: ‘His name is John’ (Luke 1:63). Straight away he was able to speak again and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. The words of that prophecy are all the more powerful because of the passing of time (chronos). Zechariah had nine months of silence to meditate on God’s word, both in the Old Testament and through the angel. While his silence was enforced as a punishment for unbelief, God was able to turn all things to good. Did Zechariah in the silence of those months when he was unable to talk with his wife or friends, begin to realise the significance of the days in which he was living?
I know in my own life that the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, though rarely practiced, helps me to stand back and grasp the wonders of God and the kairos events He initiates in the midst of the craziness and busyness of daily life.
Zechariah emerges from the months of silence filled with the Holy Spirit, and he sings what has come to be known as The Benedictus. The majority of this song is taken up not with his own son, John the Baptist, whose birth is cause enough for wonder and worship, but with the salvation that the coming Messiah is going to bring. Only two verses (vv.76–77) refer to John the Baptist specifically: ‘… you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.’ All of the other verses of The Benedictus are about the significance of the coming of Jesus.
Zechariah is a changed man – he begins in verse 68: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.’ When we first met him, this priest Zechariah could not believe that his prayer had been answered – even when a blazing angel appeared to him and spoke a promise that his wife would have a child. Now Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and he is so confident of God’s redeeming work in the coming Messiah that he speaks about it in the past tense. With conviction and faith, a promised act of God is for Zechariah as good as done. In contrast with his cynicism and doubt he is now utterly confident.
Zechariah speaks about the Messiah as ‘a horn of salvation’. He is not referring to a musical instrument, but to the deadly horn used as a weapon by the wild ox. This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is called a horn, so we have to go back to the Old Testament, as Zechariah would have, to know what this means. In Psalm 92:9–10, for example, a horn is a sign of strength and a means of victory. Jesus is the horn of salvation because He is a deadly weapon and tremendous power which, according to Zechariah in verse 71, God will use to save His people from their enemies and all who hate them. The Messiah will one day literally destroy His enemies and gather His people into His land and rule them in peace. We look forward to this during the Advent season when we reflect on the second coming of Christ. But this raising up of a horn of salvation also means that the redeemed are ‘rescued from the hand of our enemies’ so as to ‘serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days’ (vv.74–75). God’s aim in raising a horn of salvation is to create a holy and righteous people who live without fear because they trust Him. This is the heart of Zechariah’s song and of Christmas – this is what Jesus comes to do.
Pause to reflect:
Can you carve out an hour or two in the next couple of days to be silent and reflect on the wonder of the incarnation? Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit so that in the midst of the unfolding time (chronos) in your life you might grasp the kairos truth of Jesus’ coming.
Thank You, Jesus, that You came into this world as a man. I praise You that, in Paul’s words in Philippians 2, You who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Yourself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, You humbled Yourself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted You to the highest place and gave You the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
1. As we get ready for Christmas in this Advent season, remember that the One who came as a baby in Bethlehem is also the victorious Deliverer. What does this mean to you?
2. What does it mean to live in the light of the second coming of Christ? Does this make a difference to your priorities and decision-making?