Nativity of John the Baptist – June 24th, 2012 – Luke 1:57-80
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We are told in the Scriptures that John the Baptist was conceived right around 6 months before Jesus, so for many, many centuries, the Church has observed today, June 24th, right around 6 months before Christmas, as the day to celebrate and observe the Nativity of John the Baptist. And it is an insightful day. While John’s birth isn’t as important as the birth of Jesus, we see and learn much about the Christian faith from the words that are spoken at John’s birth, the song of Zechariah known as the Benedictus. Let us see what we learn from Zechariah’s song this day.
When John is born, his father Zechariah is silent. He isn’t silent because he is speechless with wonderment at the beauty of childbirth. No, no, Zechariah is silent and has been silent for 9 months because 9 months ago he had run his mouth. An Angel of the Lord had come to him in the temple and told him, that even though he was old, as was his barren wife Elizabeth, that Elizabeth would conceive and give birth to the promised forerunner of the Messiah. And Zechariah drops the ball. Zechariah says, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” How shall I know this – that’s an old way of saying, “how can this possibly happen?” Angel, you are out of your mind. Zechariah disbelieves, he rejects the word that was spoken to him – and it was even a good word, it was good news. Zechariah, God is going to bless you! Yeah, right, and just how is God supposed to be able to pull that one off? Do you see and understand the disrespect that Zechariah has? He’s not amazed; he’s snide and cynical and disbelieving. And God’s angel calls him on it. “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and bring to you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” A punishment that fits the crime. Zechariah doesn’t believe the Word which was spoken to him, and so Zechariah loses the ability to speak.
So, let me ask the question. How often do we act like Zechariah here? How often do we become snide and cynical towards God’s Word? Are we tempted to disbelieve the promises of God? He will support us, but then bad weather, rough spots in life come, and we doubt and grumble about God. Or perhaps we are more commonly tempted to disbelieve the promises of God as they apply to our neighbor. As my old Pastor in Norman would point out, forgiveness is a great idea until you’re the one supposed to be doing the forgiving. Forgiving your neighbor is hard, we prefer grousing and hating. Whenever you hate your neighbor, whenever you bear grudges against them, you are in reality saying that Christ didn’t die for them, that their sin wasn’t taken up by Christ. John the Baptist will say, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the World” – and we are tempted to say, “Well, who takes away everything except what she did to me.” That’s really bad. Sin is nothing less than rejecting the Word of God – and when we sin, we become silent, we cease speaking rightly of God, we cease telling the good news.
But for Zechariah the day of John’s birth comes. For 9 long months Zechariah has been silent, saying nothing. And the boy is born, and everyone wants the little kiddo to be named Zechariah. And when Elizabeth says, no, no, his name is John – the name given by Gabriel, they ignored her. You name a kid after someone in your family – they’ve got no relatives of this name. Elizabeth must be getting batty. And so Zechariah comes and he gets a writing tablet and writes “His name is John.” And at that moment, Zechariah can speak. Zechariah believes what was spoken to him, believes the Word of God, and his tongue is loosened, and Zechariah may speak once again.
And what does Zechariah say? Listen to his words. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us 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; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our Father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. Zechariah’s words are all about what God does. The one who disbelieved that God could give him a child now proclaims what God has done. God visits, God redeems, God raises up salvation, God speaks by the prophets, God saves from the enemy, God shows mercy, God remembers His Covenant – in fact, it’s the Covenant that God swore - God delivers us. And what do we do? Um, we are saved. We serve after God has done all this stuff that lets us serve Him. What Zechariah speaks is completely about what God has done.
Dear friends, Zechariah speaks the Gospel. When we use the term Gospel, when we use the term good news, we are referring to those things that God has done for us. If it’s about what you do, it’s not Gospel, it’s not good news. If you are doing it, it’s not news at all, it’s your actions. But we are a church of the Gospel – our focus, like Zechariah’s, is not upon what we do, but upon what God has done. Our focus is declaring what God has done for His people. Now, there is a terrible desire to abandon the Gospel even by well meaning Christians. The Gospel doesn’t seem to have all that much flash. It doesn’t seem to have all that much snazz sometimes. And so, we want to shift the focus onto ourselves. We want to turn Church into the place where you get practical advice, where you learn how to be a better person, how to have a happier life. We want to turn Church into a giant self-help club or a little social club of do-gooders. But Zechariah had 9 months of silence to think about it – he understands what’s going on. The focus is upon God and His Word. Don’t name the kid after me – it’s not about me. It’s about God – hear what He has done. Our words, our focus – it is to be on God. God is the one who redeems His people. That’s what Zechariah shouts out – look, God indeed remembers His promises, look, God is showing us mercy. If we only listened to Him we would see this, we would understand this. Therefore I will speak and proclaim God’s Word so that you might hear and understand.
And then Zechariah addresses his son John. You can almost see old Zechariah holding up his son and saying these words to him – “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His was, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Is this not amazing? Even when Zechariah turns to his son, looks upon his son with that pride that only a father can have – what’s Zechariah’s focus? Is Zechariah’s focus upon John? Nope – John, you’ll be called a prophet – but here’s what you will do. You will prepare the way of the Lord. You will preach about the messiah and forgiveness to God’s people – in fact, your whole life will be nothing but pointing to the coming one, the Messiah who comes after you. And this is in fact what John does: When all the world was cursed by Moses’ condemnation Saint John the Baptist came with words of consolation – with true forerunner’s zeal the greater One he named. John’s focus would be upon Christ.
Likewise, dear friends, we are to point to Christ. All our actions are to be ones that point to Christ. Paul when He preaches, preaches about what Jesus does. We here, the same thing. When you teach your kids, your grandkids – you teach them what Jesus has done. When you tell your friends and neighbors, you tell them what Jesus has done. In all things we point to the Cross – see, the promised Savior has come, and He has suffered and died for your sins – you are forgiveness, your sin is no longer held against you, it is destroyed and done away with. Christ Jesus has put it to death. There is salvation, salvation that comes from the forgiveness of sin.
Now, there are times in this life when Satan tries to pull us away from this. There are times when we sin, when we stumble and err. In response to this, God calls you to His house, where He remembers the oath He swore at your Baptism to be your heavenly Father. This is where God remembers that His Son has indeed won your salvation – and so the Father gladly gives you the forgiveness of sin. Indeed, He raises up for you not a horn of salvation, but a chalice full of it, full of the life giving blood of His Son. Everything that Zechariah speaks of here is given to us in God’s House – every promise of life and salvation which we share is dispersed here in God’s House – and indeed we are guided into the way of peace.
At first, Zechariah responded to God with disbelief and was struck silent. This ought to remind us of our own disbelief and our own struggles with sin. However, seeing God’s promise come to fruition, Zechariah with his restored voice gladly proclaims what God has done. Likewise, we join in with Zechariah and his son John and all the prophets, we join in with Paul and all the apostles, we join in with the Church at all times and in all places declaring with Joy the salvation that God has won for us by His Son upon the Cross. God keep our voices strong. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen