December 18th – An Exhortation: Serve as Zechariah Defines Service

Luke 1: 67 – 79:

And Zechariah his father was filled with the Holy Spirit, so that he prophesied, saying:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel:

for he has visited and redeemed his people, and raised up for us a horn of salvation in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; performing the mercy promised to our fathers, and remembering his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham, to grant that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our lives.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sings, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon up from on high to give light to those who site in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Give us the broom for making us clean.

With that abrupt prayer we ended our last meditation from December 17th—since perhaps we had noticed in our Christmas preparations a lack of readiness for the reappearing of Jesus “in his glory, all the angels with him, when he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31).

We pray first to learn what we ought to be to meet our King.

And second we pray to learn how we might become it.

And lo: Zechariah’s song—turning our attentions again to John the Baptist—answers both our beggings.

What, then, shall we be?

Servants, as Mary was, surely: so completely committed to this sacred service that it becomes our life’s purpose; it shapes all our behavior; it defines, then, even our personhood. “This,” said Mary, “is who I am. This is my identity. I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Her body and soul together were given unto God, for God’s word dwelt in her not only as an infant, but more especially as the very substance of her obedience. In this latter way may the word of God take flesh and breath in our flesh and spirits too: by our obeying it!

But the word used in verse 74 for “to serve” implies something more than menial obedience. It is a religious service, a particular devotion. It turns all our common life into a worship.

Without fear: serving this particular Lord grants us such protection that no enemy shall ever break through to destroy us.  We need not fear the world. Moreover, this particular Lord does not oppress us into his service. We choose (“Let it be to me according to your word”). Neither, then, do we cringe and grin, serving because we fear him.

In holiness and righteousness: these are characteristics of a covenant people. This righteousness are those who stand in a right relationship with God, trusting him above every created thing (above parents, spouses, one’s own abilities, money) and performing with joy the requirements that come with this particular covenant (loving one another as Jesus has loved us). The holy, likewise, are those whose relationship with God separates them (even as God is separate) from the godless world. They neither serve the world nor take their identity from the world’s standards, judgments, opinions, delights, behaviors. They are strangers here. But they are also, therefore, free and fearless!

Even so ought we to be when our Lord returns: a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

But how might we become that?

Why, turn to the Lord whom the Baptist proclaimed—and discover what God in him has already accomplished.

He has raised up for us a horn of salvation (v. 69). This “horn” is an image remembered from the Old Testament. A powerful ox establishes its four hoofs on the ground and raises it head, alert to danger, confident in its strength. With its head is raised the horn, which signifies, then, the might of the entire beast. That same horn, signifying victory, appeared on the helmets of warriors—and soon stood for the triumph of the Messianic king from the House of David. It also appeared on the corners of Israel’s sacred altars, signs of the omnipotence of the Most High.

But the verb which Luke uses here for “raised up” is unusual. In the Old Testament it’s commonly used as an act of God who “raises up” his people. In Luke’s language it is used regarding Jesus, whom God has “raised up” from the dead (Acts 4:10-12)! So the early Christian church recognized that Jesus was himself the “horn of salvation.” It is Jesus who makes the strength of God and the victory of his people real after all!

Turn unto him in order to turn into servants of the Lord, for in him is “the forgiveness of our sins” (v. 77). An Advent “turning to Jesus” requires three actions.

Let us seriously examine ourselves.

Let us genuinely confess the sins discovered within us, naming them before the altar and the horn of our salvation, Jesus.

Let us then fall completely upon “the tender mercy of our God” (v. 78). Tender means literally “the innermost parts of mercy,” which parts are the heart, the lungs and the liver of a living body, the chambers of deepest emotion.

But these are God’s innermost parts. Fall, then, upon the bosom of the Lord, whose mercy is as deep and as certain as his holy heart!

His forgiveness is likewise certain. It is his act, then, that shall raise you up again, his servant “all the days of your life.”

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come.

I come.

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