The second of the songs of Luke’s gospel comes from the mouth of Zechariah the priest on the occasion of the circumcision of his son, John. For much of church history this song has been referred to as the “Benedictus” because of its first words in the Latin translation of Scripture (Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”). The words of the song, which burst forth in praise from the aged priest, were the first spoken by him following nine months of silence.
In Luke 1:5-25 the account of Zechariah’s encounter with the angel Gabriel is recorded. Here we read that the priest was chosen by lot to burn incense on the altar inside the temple. This would in all likelihood have been the greatest honor of his life. As he entered into the holy place, however, he saw and angel who immediately spoke to him and informed him that his prayers had been answered and that he and his wife were to have a son. Not only that, but the boy would be the fulfillment of the Word of the Lord which had been spoken long ago to the prophet Malachi (Mal. 4:5-6).
In this moment the old man’s thoughts wondered how this could be possible given that he and his wife were both far beyond the age to have children. In spite of all the aged priest knew of the powerful works of God, he asked how he could “know” that this would occur? This simple question echoed the question of his distant ancestor, Abram, who had asked something similar of the Lord in Gen. 15:8. The response of the angel was to offer a sign to Zechariah. He would be silent and unable to speak until all that the angel had foretold was to be accomplished. Although this sign to Zechariah was also a punishment for his lack of faith, it was also, ironically, a sign to others that the Lord was doing something unique in their midst.
When Zechariah was able once again to speak, he extolled the Lord in song because of His glorious work which was now being accomplished among His people. The events which would culminate in the coming of the Messiah had begun, and the people of God could rejoice in their coming redemption. Zechariah also recognized the significance of the role that his own son was to play in the unfolding of these events. In order to receive Messiah’s benefits, the people would need to be prepared spiritually. It would be the ministry of his son which the Lord would use “to give knowledge of salvation to His people.” If they would turn to Him and receive the forgiveness of sin which He offered, then the words of the prophecy of Isa. 60:1-3 would be fulfilled in their midst.
Join us this Sunday as we consider together the song of Zechariah which shows us once again the importance of reflecting upon God’s Word. May we be a people who spend time contemplating Scripture during this Advent season.
Soli Deo Gloria.