“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…by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us…to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Zechariah’s song, Luke 1:68.78-79
When you turn to the gospel of Luke, the story of Christmas begins with Zechariah and Elizabeth.
We learn that Zechariah is a priest and that Elizabeth also comes from a family of priests in the line of Arron. While we don’t know much about their everyday life, we do know that not everything turned out as they had hoped. Zechariah and Elizabeth had no children. There was great cultural and familial pressure to have children. So much so that childlessness was grounds for divorce. This was quite a burden to carry. Which makes that little phrase used to describe Zechariah and Elizabeth so significant. Luke tells us “both of them were righteous before God.” They were honorable people, who loved God and showed it by the way they lived their life. Whatever their lot, they endured it, together, with God’s help.
Little did they know that one of the hardest things they may have faced for all those years, would change. The mercy and favor of God often comes in unexpected ways. An angel appeared to Zechariah on the day he was selected to serve in the temple. The angel said that God had heard Zechariah's prayers. Not only would they have a baby but their son would help prepare the way for the long awaited Savior who was also coming. The prayers of the people had been heard as well.
This encounter with the angel was not easy for Zechariah. It all hardly seemed real. While the angel brought incredible news, Zechariah was not sure about it all and did not respond well to it. The angel got upset with him. As a result, he was not able to speak at all until his son was born.
More and more I am aware of the importance of timing. Perhaps it was only after time had passed and only after experience had forged wisdom and mercy deep within Zechariah and Elizabeth that they were ready for a baby like John the Baptist. In his time of silence, Zechariah’s voice seemed to grow. Pastor Russ Ramsey explains, “Stillness allows a mind to hold complicated thoughts without losing them. Silence was a gift God gave to Zechariah, and the old man put it to work.”
In time, Zechariah's voice became audible once again and this time it rang with praise and gratitude. All he could think of was God. “Blessed be the Lord” he said,” for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us…by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us… to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
When Zechariah finally speaks we hear his love for God, that part of his character that we learned of in the very beginning of his story. The name Zechariah means the Lord has remembered. Zechariah knows God has been good to him and his people. The Lord has heard their prayers and remembered them.
There is something very powerful and beautiful here because the Lord has remembered us as well. The Lord has looked favorably on us. A Savior has been raised up for us. Whether we respond well or not. Whatever our lot. Whatever comes our way. When the tender mercy of God dawns on us, we too can break forth in praise and gratitude. Even more, we can remember God as a way of living. We can recall his promises and provisions. And as we do, in time, we discover the way of peace as we trust in him.
As the song says:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well,
It is well, with my soul.”**
*The Advent of the Lamb of God, Russ Ramsey
** It is Well With My Soul, lyrics by Horatio G Spafford