The Song of Zechariah, or Benedictus, as our text today is known, is a song or canticle of Thanksgiving. Filled with the Holy Spirit and with great joy, Zechariah prophesied what has become for the church a two verse hymn. The first verse deals with God fulfilling the promise of sending a savior to set his people free. The second verse has more to do with what his son’s (John the Baptist) role in the plan will be.
This is perhaps the first Christmas song every written. I can think of no single line in scripture that sums up the Christmas story better than: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David…” If you want to go even deeper into the meaning of Christmas, we can sing a second verse: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
In these brief sentences of the Benedictus we are told of the incarnation, as it is God himself who has come to his people to set them free. We have a foreshadowing of the cross as we hear that “he has raised up for us a mighty savior.” We hear of our coming salvation as “the light of the world” has come to shine on “those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” You would have to sing every Christmas Carol you know to equal the power and majesty of these few lines from the Song of Zechariah.
The Benedictus is sung every morning in the Roman Catholic service of lauds. It is also part of the Lutheran and Episcopal services of matins. Both lauds and matins are morning services, and have some sense of tying the story of our salvation to the rising of the morning sun. What better way to begin a new day than to contemplate the story and meaning of what happened in Bethlehem that first Christmas.
Every year we all get Christmas cards that hold out the hope and wish that we might have the joy of Christmas though out the coming year. Of course, as we pack our Christmas decorations away we gradually lose that sense of what folk traditionally call “the Christmas Spirit.” We stop singing the carols and songs of Christmas, and the embers of what was a fire in our hearts gradually burn out.
Singing or saying the Benedictus every morning in our devotional time might be a great way to keep the embers in our hearts glowing throughout the coming year. It would give us pause to stop and think about the meaning of what happened in the manger of Bethlehem, and its importance for our daily lives. It may not become the inferno in our hearts that Christmas usually brings, as it will not have all of the nostalgia and trappings to go along with it. But it will keep the essential core message before us as we face each rising sun with the thoughts of the coming of the Son of God
May the joy and light of the message of that first Christmas be with you throughout the coming year!