Christmas 2014 - Songs in the night: 1. Behind the Scenes
Christmas 2014 – Songs in the Night 1. Behind The Scenes
Luke 1: 67 - 80 Music and Christmas go together. It has always been so. Question - Do you know where to find the first Christmas carols? America? No. England? No. Europe? No. The very first Christmas carols go back 2,000 years—to the very first Christmas. The tradition of singing is as old as Christmas itself. The first Christmas carols are written in the Bible as part of the Christmas story. When Dr. Luke sat down to write his gospel, he recorded 4 of the original songs of Christmas. Luke 1-2—the story of the Nativity. The Christian church has recognized the special significance of these 4 songs of Christmas. Depending on what church background you come from, you may have heard them sung in church.
In the early church, the Bible was in Latin. From that time on, these 4 songs have been best known by their Latin titles. The titles are simply the first words. The 4 songs in order are: 1. Mary’s Song —called the Magnificat— Luke 1: 48 - 55 2. Zechariah’s Song—called the Benedictus— Luke 1: 67 - 80 3. The Angels’ Song—called the Gloria in Excelsis - Luke 2: 14 4. Simeon’s Song—called the Nunc Dimittis— Luke 2: 29 - 32 These 4 songs— original Christmas carols. Amid all the tinsel and flash and splash, amid the push toward home and the pressure of buying presents and going to parties and all the rest that goes with Christmas in our day and age, it’s good for us to go back to the Bible - find out what the story is, also what it means. These songs tell us what the story of Christmas really means. We go behind the scenes and discover the story behind the story. With that as background, we begin our survey with Zechariah’s Song—the Benedictus—found in Luke 1: 67 - 80.
2 Introductory Facts
A. Composed by a man named Zechariah. The Zechariah we’re talking about was a priest in Jerusalem. Luke tells how an angel predicted that he and his barren wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Zechariah didn’t believe the angel, so his power of speech was taken away from him for the 9 months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. When the baby was finally born, Zechariah named him John (as the angel had instructed), and his speech was immediately restored. In that joyous moment, as he held his son in his arms, Zechariah broke forth in a song of praise to God. B. Zechariah was a priest. As Zechariah breaks forth into song - sounds partly like the Psalms and partly like the prophets - part of the great value of this song. Zechariah’s song reveals the deep faith of the Jewish people on the eve of Messiah’s birth. For hundreds of years the people of God had been waiting for Messiah to come. Now at last he is almost here.
The Visitor From Heaven
Here is a snapshot of Jewish faith. These words take us behind the scenes and into the heart of godly Judaism. They tell us what the coming of Christ meant to the people who had waited so long for him to arrive! The theme of the Benedictus is not hard to find. Zechariah uses one key word at the beginning and ending of his song – v. 68, v. 78 - root word means “to visit personally.” God visiting his people in order to bring them great blessing. To “visit” means to be so moved that you get personally involved in providing a solution. All of that is on Zechariah’s heart in this one single truth: At long last God has visited his people!! At long last God has kept his promise. At long last God has arrived on the scene. The Visitor from heaven has come to us. For 4,000 long, dreary years God seemed to neglect his people. Nobody appeared more forgotten that the Jews chafing under Roman rule - rejected, overlooked and despised. Nearly 1,000 years had passed since the glorious days of King David. Over 400 years had passed since their last prophet—a man named Malachi.
Has God Forgotten His People?
The prophets spoke of One who would come from heaven - One who would be born of a virgin, born in David’s royal city, who would sit on the throne of his father David and rule over the house of Jacob forever. One who would rule the nations and redeem his people and restore Israel to its former glory. One whose name was called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Perhaps the prophets were wrong. Perhaps it all was a dream, simply wishful thinking. So many years had come and gone. Still there was no word from heaven. Perhaps God had given up on his people Israel. Perhaps he was now working with the Greeks or the Romans. No one took them seriously when they spoke of a Messiah. It looked like a cruel hoax. Had God forgotten his people? It appeared that way.
The Flickering Flame
But throughout the darkest of dark hours the faithful remnant in Israel never gave up believing that God would surely, somehow, sometime, some way keep his promises. There was always a flickering flame of belief that God would indeed visit his people and fulfill his ancient promises. Now at last, after all those years, the moment has arrived. As Zechariah looks down at his baby son, he knows that the crucial moment of world history has arrived. In his arms he holds the baby who will grow up to prepare the way of the Lord. That could only mean one thing: The Messiah is on the way! The long wait is over! The Benedictus is all about this one great truth: That God has at long last visited his people! We learn 5 specific facts about the Divine Visitation and the blessings that flow from it.
Fact # 1: Its Saving Purpose
Zechariah mentions God’s saving purpose in 4 different ways: A. He has come to redeem his people – v. 68. B. He has raised up a horn of salvation – v. 69. C. He has come to save us from our enemies – v. 71, 74. D. He has come to forgive our sins – v. 77. God did not visit us simply to see how we were doing. He knew how we were doing. That’s why he came! We were in trouble and he came to save us. That’s what Christmas is all about.
Fact # 2: Its Predicted Fulfillment
Zechariah says 3 things about the promise of the Messiah: A. It was promised by the prophets – v. 70. B. It was cherished by the fathers – v. 72. C. It was guaranteed by the oath to Abraham – v. 72, 73. The point is clear: God is now doing what he promised to do. The prophets saw it coming. Not every detail, no one saw it clearly, but they knew the day would come when God would visit his people. Micah, Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke of it. Even Abraham looked forward to this day, as did Moses and David. They all saw it coming! All of them looked through the dim mist of history and saw a bright glimpse of the day when God would visit his people. They knew it was coming; they just didn't know exactly when it would happen. This truth leads me to a crucial conclusion about Jesus Christ: He must be great because the preparation for his coming took 2,000 years. This is no small event. His coming is the biggest event in history. History is really His Story! All that came before him pointed to him. All that comes after looks back to him. He is the centerpiece of history, the demarcation between yesterday and tomorrow. In the birth of Jesus Christ, we have come to the crux and pivot of history. Zechariah is telling us something very crucial: God has visited the world in the person of Jesus Christ and nothing will ever be the same again.
Fact # 3: Its Transforming Enablement
v. 74, 75 - Zechariah speaks of the transformation he will make in the lives of those who follow him: His coming produces - A. Emotional transformation. “… serve him without fear.” B. Ethical transformation. “… holiness and righteousness….” C. Spiritual transformation. “To enable us to serve him.” So many people live lives of quiet desperation. They feel there is no answer to the question—“Why am I here?” Zechariah makes the answer clear: Jesus Christ came to admit us to the joyful service of God. This is God’s ultimate purpose for you. He saved you so that you might fulfill the highest calling in the universe—serving God without fear in righteousness and holiness forever! That’s the transforming enablement brought about by the coming of Christ to the earth.
Fact # 4: Its Prepared Forerunner
Zechariah considers the significance of the baby son he holds in his arms – v. 76, 77 - he speaks directly to his son and makes 3 specific predictions about his future: A. You will be a prophet of God. B. You will prepare the way of the Lord. C. You will proclaim the knowledge of salvation by preaching the forgiveness of sins. This is exactly what John the Baptist did. His whole mission was to make the nation ready for the coming of Messiah. He was a prophet, a preparer and a preacher of salvation. John began his ministry by going out to the desert around the Jordan River and preaching the doctrine of repentance from sin. Many flocked to hear his message. He baptized many and so helped prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) John is just 8 days old, but his father clearly sees the work God has called him to do. It’s a wonderful thing to discover your place in God’s plans and to fulfill your mission in life, whether your part be great or small. John was the man God chose to prepare the way for Jesus Christ.
Fact # 5: Its Liberating Impact
In one final burst of praise Zechariah speaks of 3 great blessings that the coming of Christ brings to the earth: v. 78, 79 - A. It is Light to those who are in darkness. B. It is Pardon to those condemned to death. C. It is Guidance to those who have lost their way. This is the difference that Jesus Christ makes. When he comes into a life, the shadows flee away. When he comes in, we find the path we thought we had lost forever. When he comes in, despair is gone for our feet have found the path of peace. That is the liberating impact of Jesus Christ!
18 Days Till Christmas
Let’s put up the tree. Let’s wrap the presents. Let’s eat and drink. But if that’s all Christmas means to you, you’ve missed what this season is all about. We have a wonderful opportunity to set our hearts right. Christmas is about the truth that God has at last visited his people. All the rest is window dressing. As the commercials keep telling us, there are only 18 shopping days left until Christmas. But think about what else that means. 18 praising days until Christmas. 18 singing days until Christmas. 18 worshiping days until Christmas. How are you going to spend the 18 days that are left for you before Christmas finally arrives? God has visited his people in the person of Jesus Christ. Now that same Visitor comes and knocks at the door of your heart. Will you open the door and let him in? He come and knocks. Can you hear the sound echoing in your heart? He stands patiently at the door, waiting for you to open and ask him in. Good news, my friend. The visitor from heaven is here at last! Will you, like Zechariah, drop everything and welcome him? Or are you too busy this year to be bothered with Jesus? How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming but in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. So he does! May that be your experience this Christmas season.