The Song of Zechariah
As we enter into another Advent season, it is good to be reminded that doing the unlikely and unreasonable is standard procedure for our God when He dramatically advances His redemptive plan. Perhaps, however, that description is too weak. When poised to accomplish work central to His plan of salvation, the Lord God usually chooses methods that border on the outlandish and impossible.
Throughout the Bible, seemingly impossible pregnancies and very late-in-life births often advance God’s plan to save sinners. God grants the conception of the prophet, Samuel, to the pious but barren Hannah (1 Sam. 1:3-20). While Isaac was not the promised seed of Abraham, God’s advances His covenant through his unlikely birth; a birth which miraculously (and hilariously, according to Sarah) takes place when Abraham is a centenarian and his previously barren wife, Sarah, is in her nineties (Gen. 18:12). Following these curious precedents in the Old Testament, the conception of John the Baptist is another good example of this theme (Luke 1:5-25).
In addition to such strange and surprising methods, the Lord God likes to take His own good time and usually plenty of it when moving His plan of redemption forward. Only God knows how many thousands of years passed before He acted on His promise to the Devil that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). Some 2000 years passed before God delivered the chosen seed of Abraham by which all the nations of the world would be blessed (Gal. 3:16). With no sarcasm intended, the Apostle Paul declared that it finally happened in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4).
The familiar Biblical narratives leading up to the birth of Christ recount events that seemed incredulous at the time and still do today. Mary believed the incredible announcement of the angel Gabriel that as a virgin, she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit to be named Savior (Jesus). Her wonderful and moving words of faith and thanksgiving upon receiving this startling news form a song known as the beautiful Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
But, let’s get back to aged barren women and consider the events that surrounded the conception and birth of John the Baptist. The elderly priest Zechariah had an equally elderly wife, Elizabeth, and she was barren (Luke 1:5-7). Of course! Before being dispatched with tidings for the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel is sent to Zechariah to inform him that Elizabeth would become pregnant and bear a son. No, he would not carry on Zechariah’s priestly work, and no, he would not carry his name. He would become a prophet in the spirit of Elijah, and his name would be John. He would return many in Israel to their God and make them prepared to receive the Lord (Luke 1:16-17, 2:59-60). Understandably, Zechariah finds this announcement to be just as unbelievable as Sarah did 2000 years before. Though he did not laugh, his disbelief rendered him speechless; unable to talk until the child was born, named, and circumcised (Luke 1:18-20, 2:57-64).
Zechariah spends nine months in silence, pondering the words spoken to him by Gabriel before he regains his voice. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he proclaims a magnificent prophecy about the nature and importance of John’s prophetic ministry. He foretells and extols how his son will serve to prepare sinful people to gain knowledge of their salvation in the forgiveness of sins that will flow from God’s tender mercy. The rise of the Sun from on high will give light and forgiveness to those who sit in the dark places of the shadow of death (Luke 1:77-79). John will baptize sinners for repentance and the forgiveness of sins to prepare for the coming of the Promised One.
His prophecy is an incredible confession of faith similar to Mary’s Magnificat. It too has become a loved canticle in the Church known as the Benedictus. Benedictus Dominus Deus (Blessed be the Lord God) are the opening words of Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:68). His words are fitting for us to ponder and take to heart. And again, this Advent Season, let us avail ourselves to God’s work of remaking a repentant highway in the wilderness of our sin-filled hearts to receive anew the One who is coming in the Name of the Lord.
If we think about it, there is good reason to thank God that He continues to take His time and uses unexpected means to advance His saving work. Incredible and amazing as it may also seem, Zechariah’s prophecy about John’s ministry also comes to us in the fullness of our time. Some 2000 years-plus after John did his baptizing in the wilderness along the Jordan River, his ministry of repentance and forgiveness of sin comes to prepare us to receive the Word made flesh. The dark places in the shadow of our death have been overcome by the Son of God who will come again to enlighten us and guide us in the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79). We too have been overshadowed by our gracious God, and He has brought about a most miraculous conception and rebirth of new life in the barrenness of our hearts. And as with Mary, it has been conceived and brought forth solely by the life-giving Word of God and the Holy Spirit. How strange and how wonderful dear Lord. Keep it up! A blessed Advent Season to you!