The First Sunday of Advent December 3, 2006
701 [TLH alt. 60], 66, 56, 567(1)
Blessed is 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, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which 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 the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
In the name of Jesus who was, who is, and who is to come, dear fellow redeemed:
Do you remember the first time you met your spouse? Was there an immediate impact upon your life? Maybe you didn’t even know right away that this was the person whom you would marry. For those of you yet unmarried, maybe you have already met your future spouse and just don’t know it. While many may not recall fireworks going off, it would be hard to think of another person that will have a bigger impact on your life. When children are born that is also life-altering. You never know all the exact ways that they will change your life, but undoubtedly change happens.
When God chose to send His Son to this earth, this was a life-changing moment for you. Many people were not aware of it at the time, nor are many people today aware of just how big Jesus’ impact is on this world. But we praise God as Zacharias did, “For He has visited and redeemed His people.” [v.68] He came to visit to save us from our enemies and to give us a purpose in life. No one has impacted our lives more. As we focus on the coming of Christ this Advent season may God lead us to recognize Jesus for who He is and what He has done for us.
One Saturday morning my children were watching a cartoon in which a space alien took different forms whenever he met a person. He would appear as that person’s greatest fear. It would be interesting if each of us could project onto a screen what is, in our mind, our greatest fear. For a small child it might be some sort of monster or a robber. For an adult it might range from losing a job, to loneliness, crime, or physical harm coming to your children. Our defenses are sharpened against all of these fears and against the enemies we have in this world.
Many people look at their greatest fear or their perception of their greatest enemy and then assume that Jesus came for that particular situation. Two thousand years ago in Israel the greatest enemy was the Roman Empire. So when people heard prophecies about the Messiah, their assumption was that He was coming to uplift them from political oppression. People today are looking for a savior from many different situations: poverty, AIDS, terrorism, war, and pandemic flu.
Yet, if we think that these are our biggest enemies and that Jesus came solely for that purpose, we are far off the mark and are greatly underestimating His work. The enemies whom we should fear are far greater than terrorists. Consider Satan—He has the power of an angel. He has been around since the beginning of time and uses his accumulated knowledge to tempt us into sin. Our sinful nature is all too eager to agree with Satan and disobey God even though such disobedience is worthy of eternal death. If left unchecked, our spiritual enemies would lead us directly into a lake of fire—Hell itself. Without intervention from a Savior we are shackled to Satan and the fate of being sinners in the hand of an angry God. If we prioritize earthly concerns and enemies above sin, death, and the powerful grip of Satan, than we are playing right into his hand. We end up making Jesus smaller and less powerful in our minds.
Zacharias was one who fully understood why Jesus was coming. It would be his son who would prepare the way for Jesus. By inspiration, Zacharias pulled passages from the Old Testament to prophesy exactly what the Savior was all about. He said that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” [v.69] Nearly every time “horn” is mentioned in the Bible it is symbolic of power. Don’t make the mistake of looking at that baby in the manger and thinking that He is somehow weak. Jesus is true God. He is the Creator of the world and lacks nothing when it comes to power. Don’t look at His love and forgiveness and make the mistake that He is some sort of pushover. Don’t think that His enemies had control over Him as they led Him to the cross.
Against our powerful enemies we need an even more powerful ally. That is Jesus Christ. Satan could not stand up to Him, but was subdued and tied up. Death lost its sting when Christ rose from the grave. The unbelieving world wanted to get rid of Him, but He loved them all the same, and even was willing to sacrifice Himself to save them. He is the horn of salvation.
This should have been no surprise to people. We read in our text that God made a covenant—an agreement that this would take place (cf. v. 72). He swore an oath to Abraham that in his Seed (Jesus) all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He pre-planned the coming of Christ and made sure that it would happen.
We do a lot of planning for special events in our lives. Some spend over a year planning for a wedding. Maybe for a special birthday or anniversary or family reunion we’ll be getting details arranged months in advance. The Lord has that planning beat by far. Even before time began He chose to save you. He didn’t back off as the world became increasingly wicked. Even as He destroyed much of the world in the flood, He still preserved the remnant of Noah and his family so that the promise of a Savior would be kept. And then when the fullness of time came God sent His Son into the world, to live for us and to die for us, “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” [v.71]
We know what we are saved from, but we are also reminded what we are saved for. In His rescue Jesus has given us purpose. In this life we are able to serve Him in holiness and also give knowledge and illumination to those around us.
When the former Soviet Union broke up, it was not an easy transition from communism. Although I believe it is getting better, at first they went from one form of oppression to another. The freedom from the oppression of the government was abused, and soon criminal elements such as the Russian mafia took over and crime was rampant.
When we are freed from our enemies, we are not left in some sort of spiritual limbo or neutrality. “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 the days of our life.” [v.74] For some this wouldn’t seem like much of a deal: “Wait a minute! We’re going from being slaves of Satan to having to serve God? I want to be free!” They think they are trading one form of oppression for another. Not at all. It is with joy and gratitude that we serve our Savior because we don’t have to be afraid of God who will judge all. Rather we have a relationship with Him. Our destination has been changed from Hell to Heaven. This makes our service to Him in holiness and righteousness something in which we may rejoice.
We also have something to share with others. As Zacharias gazed upon his son, John, he knew what his service would be. “You will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.” [vv.76-77] You and I do not have the same office of John the Baptist but we have been commissioned with that same message. Instead of pointing ahead like he did, we point back to the visit of God to His people in the form of Jesus. We point out the tender mercy of our God in the free forgiveness that He provided. Like John we can point to Jesus and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
We are here to tell of Jesus’ purpose “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [v.79] Through Christ we are able to see things clearly. We are able to label sin for what it is without excusing it. We are able to know who our greatest enemies are and who has defeated them. In Christ we may know what is the path of righteousness and what is the path of death.
But how many are in the shadow of death? How many Christians easily slip back from the light into the darkness? As you are reminded of a life-changing visit from the King of Kings you too can tell. You know the one who saved us from our enemies and gave us purpose in this life. Bring Him into the lives of those who surround you that they may know and be illuminated. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.