+ Advent Midweek 1 – December 5th, 2012 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
The Benedictus: Genesis 15:1-21; 1 Chronicles 29:10-19; Luke 1:67-80
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Maybe you’re like me and you remember sitting in English class, fighting the after lunch head nods, eyes glazed over, thinking to yourself: “Please, no more sentence diagrams. Is it recess time yet?”
Sorry to burst your inner-junior-high bubble. But your English teacher was right: grammar saves lives. One little comma is all that separates a kind dinner invitation to grandma from outright cannibalism. “It’s time to eat, Grandma. It’s time to eat grandma.”
That’s absurd. Perhaps, but this absurd example expresses an important truth: Words matter. What you say. How you say it. Definitions. Sentence structure. Punctuation. Words matter.
It’s true with language. How much more so with Scripture: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ spoke Words to the holy prophets, gave his apostles brains to think and hands to write, and moved their tongues with his Spirit-filled Word: Christ is Crucified and Risen for you.
God’s oath is his Word. His Word is life. His life comes to you in Words. Jesus speaks your language: Greek and Hebrew are translated into myriads of languages; Jesus’ Word spoken over water. Jesus’ Word spoken in absolution. Jesus’ Word eaten in the Lord’s Supper. Words matter.
And none more than the words we hear out of Zechariah’s mouth…for they’re not really Zechariah’s words, but God’s Word set to music, a canticle or hymn. Zechariah’s song isn’t some mindless repetition of religious sounding words, but a faithful interpretation and exposition of God’s oath and covenant, pointing to Scripture’s greatest Word: Christ. He who chants prays twice,” St. Augustine once said. A good Lutheran hymn will do exactly what Zechariah’s song did: proclaim Christ’s deliverance in the past, present and future.
So this Advent, we’ll be taking a closer look at three canticles in Luke’s gospel – Mary’s Magnificat, Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis and tonight, the song of Zechariah , the Benedictus. The title is Latin for “blessed.” Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, Zechariah chants.
What does it mean to bless the Lord? It’s not like he needs a pat on the back, “Why thank you, I am pretty awesome, aren’t I?”
When we say “bless the we Lord” we confess with Zechariah that it’s the Lord who gives and bestows all blessing…and here’s how he did it. Blessing the Lord is less about our work for him and more about his work for us.
Zechariah sings the grammar of salvation. Remember, words and grammar matter. So listen to the verbs again…Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.
Visited. Redeemed. Raised up.
Christ visits us like a dying person in hospice care, like a prisoner on death row. “I have not come for the righteous but for sinners.”
Visited and redeemed. You were a slave to sin; in bondage to death. Held in Satan’s captivity. But Christ has paid your ransom. Died your death. Crushed Satan. Death and the devil have no more power over you. You are redeemed. Delivered. Released. Free to serve God without fear.
Visited. Redeemed. Raised up. A horn is power, deliverance, victory. The infinite power of God gift-wrapped for you in the humble flesh of the infant growing in Mary’s womb. The infinite power of God, raised up and hidden in the suffering of the cross. God’s mighty deliverance wrapped in naked shame as your victory is sealed with blood.
This is the language of Christ’s love, the punctuation of salvation. Visited. Redeemed. Raised up – all for you. Period.
Zechariah's divine grammar lesson is a musical masterpiece, recounting YHWH’s entire salvation. Christ’s visiting, redeeming and saving work fills the Past, present, future tense. Jesus is in the verbs.
By the way, this is an excellent tool for reading and hearing sermons. What verbs is the pastor using? Is it about improving your behavior or self esteem; do they glorify and exalt your moral fortitude and old Adam’s favorite topic: yourself? Or do the verbs proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection? Delivered. Saved. Shown mercy. Redeemed. Is Jesus the one running the verbs or are you? Is Christ’s work the action of the sentence or is it yours?
Not only is Jesus in the verbs… Jesus is the verbs. He is the Visitor. The Redeemer. The Horn of Salvation. He is the voice of the prophets and apostles. He is our rescuer from all enemies. He is our mercy giver. He swears an oath on his own life: “If they break this oath, I’ll take the punishment; the innocent will die for the guilty.” He remembers his covenant. He gives light to us who sit in darkness and guides our feet in the way of his crucified peace.
These verbs point us to the very heart of Zechariah’s song and to the heart of God himself: God remembers his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.
In the OT, covenant making was a bloody mess. Blood at circumcision. Blood in sacrifice. Blood over the doorposts. Blood on the people. All of YHWH’s covenants in the OT – for Abraham, Noah, David, Jeremiah and Israel – flow downstream. To the Blood on the cross. Blood in a cup of blessing.
From the cross to the chalice, Jesus’ blood makes a new, everlasting covenant with you. Even the pages of Scripture are covered in red ink – not typos – but with Christ’s blood, shed for you.
This is why Zechariah’s song is such a good hymn. The focus isn’t on us - like a lot of so-called Christian music out there. Zechariah’s verbs exalt Christ and his greatest work for you. How He Visited. Redeemed. Raised you up up. How He remembers his holy covenant with you.
Yes, Zechariah sang of your salvation too: “that we, being delivered from the fear of our enemies.” You are an heir of this YHWH’s oath sworn to Abraham. Not by Abraham’s blood or by his works, but by the blood of Christ and his righteousness that covers you.
But here’s the strange thing about most of the verbs in Zechariah’s song. He used the past tense: Visited. Redeemed. Raised up. Seems odd doesn’t it? Why is that? God’s Word is action. “Let there be light.” “Arise, your sins are forgiven.” When God says it, it's done.
“By these words Zechariah was telling, by way of prophecy, as if it had already come to pass. What he had seen in the Spirit had begun and would soon come to pass” (Bede). Zechariah was so sure that God would keep his promises that he speaks as if the events had already happened. And why not? He had God’s Word on it, God’s oath. He sang of the triumph of the Messiah even while He was still growing in Mary’s womb.
So, tonight we sing with Zechariah in righteous, joyous confidence, in the past tense, knowing that God promises have already been accomplished. And thankfully, there’s no copyright or iTunes licensing on Zechariah’s song. We boldly join Zechariah’s choir. For the Lord has visited and redeemed and raised up a horn of salvation for Zechariah and for you.
And He opens your lips that your mouth might declare his praises –to friends, family and neighbors, to a community that needs to hear Christ’s grammar of salvation. You, dear children are also prophets of the most high, to go before him to prepare his way and He will guide your feet and your lips in the way of his crucified and risen peace.
For in this song, whose spirit-filled lyrics prepared the way for John the Baptizer, Christ prepares you for His coming. His Advent in Bethlehem. His Advent on the cross and from the grave. His Advent in glory and His Advent among us in the Lord’s Supper. Here you are visited. Redeemed. Raised up.
A blessed Advent to you all…
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.