January 2, 2022
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Every year at New Year’s we talk about resolutions. They are goals we set for ourselves to make us or the people around us lives better. The best laid plans though are only good if followed through to the end. Many resolutions are not achieved because they take work. And even if the reward sounds so good, the work it takes to get there stops us short.
There is one thing Zechariah would have listed as a New Year’s resolution. We hear about Zechariah in Luke 1. Once, while serving as priest at the temple, an angel appeared to him and told him he would have a son. Hearing this, Zechariah responded in Luke 1, 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” For years it may have been Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth’s New Year’s resolution to start a family, but it did not happen. Then, an angel appeared to him and gave him good news, but he did not believe him. The consequence for his unbelief was silence until his child was born. At that point, Zechariah likely switched his New Year’s resolution to being able to speak again, although Elizabeth might have enjoyed having him quiet for a change. At the same time, Elizabeth must have missed her husband telling her that he loves her and encouraging her through her pregnancy, and also his prayers and sharing the Word of God with her. With their prayer for a child answered, they both would have wanted Zechariah to be able to speak, but both the good news of a child and the good news that Zechariah would be able to speak when the child was born, and not a moment before, were both out of their control and only possible by the work of God.
When Zechariah and Elizabeth had their child, God allowed Zechariah to speak. Once he was able to speak, Zechariah praised God. Zechariah’s words are recorded at the end of Luke 1, beginning with praise to God for the Savior and ending with praise for the birth of his son, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for Jesus. Today our focus is on the words of praise Zechariah spoke about the Savior. His words began with, 68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” Zechariah was humbled by God with the gift of a child in his old age and with the return of his ability to speak. With those gifts that only God could give him, he praised him.
Zechariah’s praise also went beyond those two gifts to the greatest gift of God, redemption. Redemption means to buy back or pay for something. The word Zechariah used had the picture of loosening or freeing. Zechariah praised God for redeeming his people Israel, 71 … “from the hand of all who hate us,” and, 74 “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies.” Israel’s enemies are the same as yours, and all people, they are sin and the devil. Paul wrote in Romans 8, 7 “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” When God created humanity, he wanted there to be peace and harmony between people and God, but the devil separated us from God binding us to him and to sin. We were chained and stuck to sin, unable to free ourselves. God was the only one who could loosen, unbind and break the chains that held us to sin. Zechariah praised God for keeping his promise made 1,000 years before Jesus in 2 Samuel 7 to send the Savior from the house of David along with the many other promises spoken through the Old Testament prophets, even going back to the promise made to Abraham 2,000 years before Jesus. Abraham and his wife Sarah like Zechariah and Elizabeth had been given a son in their old age so that God would be praised for his work to create the great nation that came from Abraham, Israel. Israel the nation created by God’s promise and power, not by human resolutions and power. Spiritual Israel is the kingdom of God, and not of this world.
You are free from the enemy who hates you. The devil hates you and wants you to remain God’s enemy so that you live each day fighting against God and everyone around you. He wants you to pursue sin, so that you die and go to hell. The devil and his followers are the ultimate haters, who love sin and evil, who hate God and hate you for trusting in God. Your enemy hates you for trusting in God because God has defeated him. In Colossians 1, we hear why our enemy hates us and why we can be confident God has redeemed us, 15 “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” The devil and the forces of sin and evil cannot keep you tied down because they are fighting against God for you. And God is supreme. He is the highest, the greatest and most powerful. He is the one who loves you and saved you. He was the one who would go into battle for you, who was punished by God for your sins as we hear in 2 Samuel 7, 14 “I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” Jesus let the haters put him to death, so that he could give the payment of this life for yours, to redeem, to buy you back, to pay the price to set you free, bringing you into his kingdom that will last forever.
God redeemed you to serve him without fear. Zechariah concluded his praise to God for the Savior with the words, 74 … “and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” Haters of God keep his commands because they are afraid of punishment. You keep his commands out of love. God bought you with the life of his only Son. You are not his enemy, but his family. You did not need a New Year’s resolution, but a new life resolution. And God gave you that new life. And just like a New Year’s resolution that is kept, whether to have better health, relationships, income, education, etc. you do not stop after the resolution is met, but maintain and grow. God has made you his holy, sinless people and now you are called to serve him in righteousness. The standard to test all your goals for 2022 and beyond is righteousness, which is simply those things that are right or good in God’s eyes. Things Paul wrote about in Colossians 3, 12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” One way to live as one of God’s people is to do what Zechariah did and praise God.
When God allowed Zechariah to speak again, he praised God. Zechariah’s first word in our reading from Luke 1 translated “praise” is the Greek word from which we get the English word eulogy. It literally means ‘good word.’ Every year we talk about resolutions using all kinds of good words to describe what we want to be or work for, but most of those take a lot of work and because of many other circumstances, they do not come true. Like Zechariah put your focus back on the good work already done for you by God. This year praise God. Share what he has done for you. Share with someone close to you or with a stranger. With those close to you share the deep dark enemies God has saved you from. With a stranger share the general brokenness of the world God has saved you from. Whoever you are with and wherever you go this year say good things about God because he set you free from your haters. Amen.