Nativity of St. John the Baptist–“Benedictus” (Luke 1:57-80)

F-15 Nativity of St. John (Lu 1.57-67)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we look at our text for today, we see Elizabeth, cousin of Mary, give birth to her child, John. His father, Zechariah, had been stricken mute by God throughout the pregnancy because he doubted the words of the angel Gabriel. Now, Zechariah is able to speak and he cannot be silenced. He is so excited at the birth of John that he composes a wonderful expression of what God has done in what is called the Benedictus.

Looking at what Zechariah says, he gives nothing short of a testimony. Zechariah’s testimony is nothing like modern testimonials. Today, when a person shares their testimonial, they typically focus upon their own life, and upon what God has done in their circumstances. These testimonials almost never focus upon the greatest thing of all – the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. These other, lesser blessings may be very good in themselves. When God saved you, He forgave your sins and declared you righteous. You are not made righteous in your actions. You are not made holy in your lifestyle. You receive the holiness of Jesus Christ as a gift that covers up your own unholiness.

Zechariah’s hymn is directly dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit. Luke records, “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied….” When Gabriel appeared, Zechariah doubted the Word of God. Now, following the birth of John, he no longer doubts but has complete faith in God and His Word.

It is true that the occasion for Zechariah’s testimony is the birth of his son, John. So it may seem at first glance that Zechariah is giving a testimonial based on physical blessings. But Zechariah finds more meaning in the event than simply the miracle of birth. The main focus of Zechariah’s Benedictus is God’s work of salvation. This is why a big deal is made about naming the child John, in obedience to the word spoken by the Angel Gabriel. The name “John” means “The Lord is gracious.” The coming of John signaled the arrival of God’s grace in the Person of the Messiah. Therefore, the arrival of John is really about the arrival of the grace and mercy of God.

The first part of the Benedictus deals with “the LORD God of Israel” and what God has done for Israel in the past. And just what has the LORD done for Israel? Zechariah says that the LORD “has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation.” This is the work of salvation for His people. This is God showing mercy, remembering the covenant that He made with Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Of the descendants of Abraham came David. Jesus came from the house of David, and as the Servant of the Lord, He will bring salvation from all enemies. The rescue effected by Christ will enable God’s people to  serve Him. Zechariah had devoted his life to serving the Lord by representing the people in the temple as priest. Now, he sees a new era when all believers will worship their Savior.

Grace and mercy is the main theme of the Song of Zechariah. He spoke of the tender, compassionate mercy of God that wells up from His heart. But it does not remain merely an emotion within God. His grace quickly finds expression in action. Therefore, He has sent His Son into your human flesh. Christ is the Dayspring from on high, whose arrival upon the earth was like the dawning of a new day, and the beginning of a new creation. He has brought life and light to you who sat in darkness and the shadow of death.

As you move through Zechariah’s song, the hymn moves from past to future. The first part of the hymn describes God’s saving action in the past, while the second part focus on God’s saving in the future. God has visited in the past and will now visit the people of today through Jesus Christ. The redemption and horn of salvation from His past mighty acts will now give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of sins through Christ. This redemption came to the people through the holy prophets of old, but now will come through the prophet John, the forerunner to Christ.

The message that John comes bringing is not a message about himself, but rather it is the message of Jesus Christ. John was coming to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”” God’s grand plan was now coming to completion: to send Jesus, the Messiah of God. Matthew records these words from John: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John knew just how important Jesus would be. He knew exactly what it was that Jesus was coming to do. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, came at just the right time, living the perfect life that mankind had failed to live; living that perfect life which you have failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind, who had failed to keep God’s perfect Law when He died on the cross. That means that your sins were paid for in full on account of what Jesus Christ has done for you. Jesus rose from the grave to demonstrate His victory on our behalf. We know that because Christ has come into this world to live and to die, He will come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.

Everything that Zechariah says in this hymn is what Christ will do for you and on your behalf. Everything that John the Baptist does is to point people not to himself, but to Christ and His saving work for the people. Jesus has come and demonstrated God’s resolve and ability to deliver on all of His promises, promises that were made by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. John the Baptist was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus’ first coming. Through John and his ministry, people were brought to faith in the Messiah who had been promised, only to see the Messiah for themselves firsthand.

This same Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises that God made through the centuries, from Adam to Malachi. Jesus is the meaning of the Covenant that God made with His people Israel. Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus is Lord, because He has saved you from your sins by making atonement upon the Cross with His Blood. That is the Covenant of God.

Here, at the Altar of God, you see the full atonement made for each and every one of your sins. Here you see the Covenant sealed by the Blood of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Here you participate in the Covenant by receiving the forgiveness of sins, as you partake of the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. May we ever be like those faithful servants of old who point to Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.