Good morning! Today we continue our study of how God prepared the world for Jesus’ coming. I’ve been struck this year by the people the Lord chose to be the principle players in the Christmas story. My son-in-law is a profession actor/singer on Broadway and he’s often called for auditions. Aaron has learned an interesting lesson. It’s not always the most talented who get chosen, it’s the person who best fits a particular role.
So how would the people God chose to play the lead roles in the Christmas story have fared if they were subject to a human casting director? Would Zechariah and Elizabeth have made the cut or would they have been rejected as too old, too disconnected, too unknown?
Would Mary have been pretty enough? Would Joseph have been too pious or too boring! Would John the Baptist have been dismissed as too weird? Maybe it was his green teeth from eating all those grasshoppers. Would the real shepherds have made it through the door or rejected as social misfits who were too dirty, smelly, and uneducated.
What was the Lord teaching us about himself in the cast he chose? What was he teaching us about ourselves? If we had been there, would we have missed the event because we rejected the players? This morning I want us to focus on Zechariah’s song.
Remember how the angel met Zack in the temple and announced that his old wife Elizabeth would be having a baby? Zack refused to believe it. The consequences of his unbelief was that he was mute for the next 9 months until baby John the Baptist was born.
It was perhaps the best act of God’s grace, Zechariah had ever experienced. He didn’t have to explain or argue with anyone about what the angel had said. He had nine months to think about what happened. He was living out Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” How might our preparations for Christmas change if were forced to slow down and listen?
Luke tells us that when they finally placed this baby in his arms, Zechariah’s mouth was opened and all the things he’d been meditating on for the last 9 months began to pour out. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and he began to prophesy, not about his own son, but about Jesus, the Messiah, who his son would prepare the way for. Let’s look at his song.
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people.” Lk 1:68
It had been 400 years since the Lord had last given a prophetic word to Israel. During those long mute years they had languished under the boot of the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans. They thought about and longed for the Redeemer to come restore the kingdom of David. They believed God had withdrawn from them. Now finally a sign had come.
To redeem means to buy back or pay a debt. This is far deeper than just chasing the Romans out of Israel. Look at vs 75-77. This redemption is going to pay our debt before God and set us free from the sin that has enslaved our souls. Neither Zack nor the people expected that the long awaited Redeemer would come in the way he did, nor that his salvation would involve death on a Roman cross and be spiritual rather than political.
“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he said through his holy prophets of long ago…” Luke 1:69-70
Being a farm boy I have no problem understanding the horn described here. It isn’t a musical instrument. It’s the horn of a wild ox. We had a little herd of cows when I was a boy, all of them but one had been polled – that is the horn buds had been cut out when they were newborn calves - all except for one.
The cowboys missed part of one of her horn buds so she had this one little deformed horn that she used it bully anybody that got in her way. She misused her horn to run from one pile of hay to the next to selfishly drive off the other cows. That’s where the expressing “horning in on” came from. The right use of a horn would be a mother cow using her horns to protect her baby, or a bull using his horns to protect the herd.
A horn is a sign of strength and a symbol of victory. The redeemer who is to come will be a horn of salvation for us. He will rescue us with his power. He will drive away our enemies. Remember Zechariah was a priest, he had studied the Scriptures all his life, and he knew Psalm 132: “I will make a horn to sprout for David.”
In Micah, the Lord prophesies this will be a “horn of iron”. None of the Lord’s enemies will be able to stand against it. This includes the political enemies like the Roman army, but far more than Rome in means the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
The next verse of Zack’s song says that this horn will literally destroy his enemies and bring his people home again. “… salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,” Luke 1:71-74
Our salvation isn’t something we create or even deserve. From first to last it will be an act of God’s love and grace. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham which brings us to the most important verse in the song. The Messiah has come in power “ … to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days.” Luke 1:74-75
What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Where do we find the abundant life we seek? It’s found in becoming what we were created to be. The Westminster Shorter Catechism used in the Presbyterian Church puts it this way. What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Westminster Shorter Catechism
Jesus told us and showed us that the primary purpose of life is to serve God, not self. Serving self always ends in slavery and despair. In Philippians 2 it says Jesus emptied himself and became the servant of all. This isn’t a change in his nature. It’s who God is. Who he has always been. Jesus told his disciples, “If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, learn to be the servant of all.”
Zack sang that the Messiah has come to enable us to serve God without fear. Let’s think about this. What causes us to be afraid to serve the Lord?
Maybe the first thing is that we are afraid of what others will think about us if we take this Jesus thing to far? Anybody here been afraid of that? But this kind of fear always ends in slavery from which we cannot in our own strength escape.
A second fear is that if we really begin to serve God he will take advantage of us like sometimes happens when we serve other people. The truth is we were created to serve God and the freedom we seek only comes as we serve him.
A third reason we can be afraid to serve God is because we are afraid of what it will cost us in time, talent, treasure. The truth is everything we have is a gift from him already. And he promise to provide for us all we need from day to day. You can’t out give the Lord, but fear and faithlessness can plug up the pipeline of his provision for you.
Maybe the deepest fear that keeps us from the salvation God has prepared for us is our fear that if we really let God have his way, he will change us and how we think about ourselves. And that’s exactly what will happen. But without the Lord, you have no true identity.
The greatest enemy that this horn of Jesus has the power to overcome is not the enemies outside of us, but our own sinful nature that resists him at every turn.
Jesus has the power to transform our sin addicted hearts and cleanse us so that we can stand before God without fear so that we can joyfully “serve him in holiness and righteousness all my days” which if the Bible is right about eternity – means forever. That’s a big deal!
We face some powerful enemies in this world, but the greatest, the most lethal, is our own sinful nature. We need a Savior with the power, the horn, to defeat this monster without killing us. And that’s who Jesus is and that’s what he did for us on the cross.
1 John 3:8b says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8b
Fear and pride are two of the devils greatest works. Don’t underestimate Jesus’ power to deliver you from Satan’s lies. Don’t neglect the forgiveness Jesus paid for through his own death on the cross to restore you to the dignity, holiness, the joy God created you to have. This is the gift Zack is singing about. It’s God’s Christmas to you. It’s yours but you must drop your pride, drop your fear, and receive it by faith, open it, and begin to live it out.