"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…"
Luke begins his gospel account of the life of Jesus with two of Jesus' relatives, a priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth. They are known for their personal holiness and obedience to God, but they have no children and both of them are past child-bearing years. Yet, God is in the business of miracles. While Zechariah is serving in the temple one day, an angel appears to him and says, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John." Zechariah is terrified, and does not believe the angel so the angel tells him, "because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."
We know the story, God's promise is fulfilled, and Zechariah is blessed by the miracle birth of his son, John. When he is able to speak again, he praises God for the Christ Child who will soon be among them because he knows that John will prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus. God has given Zechariah and Elizabeth a son whose life is caught up in the designs of God. John "will be great in the sight of the Lord…and he will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God"
After the birth of John, and before Zechariah ever opens his mouth, the Spirit fills his soul and inspires him to sing God's praise. Like a melody in a musical overture, Zechariah's prophecy hints at things to come, while reflecting refrains from long before. Together with other "songs" in Luke's gospel, Zechariah's song offers a symphony of praise to the God who is, who has been, and who always will be working among God's people. Just as Mary praises God as Savior, and Simeon rejoices at seeing God's salvation in the infant Jesus, Zechariah blesses the one who has "raised up a mighty savior for us." He has been told that the day will come when his own son will prepare the way for God's son, participating in God's mission of salvation by calling people to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That day has arrived.
In time and as promised, Jesus, the son of God, comes "to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace." God raises up a savior for us. The promise given long ago through the birth, naming, and circumcision of John is the same as the promise given today - God is active among God's people, here and now.
How do we know that God is working in our lives in this time, especially in a time when people are suffering, when another variant of Covid threatens us once again? We know that God is active because God has been active among God's people from the beginning. This is the testimony of the Old Testament, of Jesus, of the Gospel writers, and the testimony of the church. Zechariah's song presents an opportunity for us to bear witness to the ways that God is at work among us, telling our story as a chapter in the larger story of God's people.
On the day when Zechariah sings and John is barely a week old, his father is filled with the hope that accompanies new life. It is the hope of salvation for all people: Jews and Gentiles, insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, blind and lame, tax collectors and sinners, women and men, old and young, fishermen and farmers, Samaritans and soldiers, lepers and lawyers, and us
today. As Zechariah waits, as we all wait, for the unfolding of God's purposes in John, we look ahead to the one who is more powerful than he, the one who is to come, whose own name proclaims that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
In the end, Zechariah's song is not simply a way to announce the birth of John, but to proclaim God's faithfulness, God's salvation, and God's peace. During this season of Advent, as we await the birth of the Savior of the world, may we pray together with Zechariah, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel."