Songs matter, as we’ve determined in my last two posts. Scripture tells us that what comes out of our mouths shows clearly what’s in our hearts (Matthew 15.18). Where is that more certain than a song that bursts forth, unrehearsed, in jubilant, or horrified, feeling?
The Israelites could not find their voice in exile, even though they were commanded to sing. In their grief, no words came. (How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? Psalm 137)
After a long, enforced silence, Zechariah finds his voice. Or, rather, it is given back to him. New and improved. (If you missed Zechariah’s back story, read about it here. It matters to what happens next.)
In Zechariah’s relief and joy, words come whirling out like a waterfall during spring rain.
This is what that voice says, or sings:
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant—
the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear,
in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.
And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1.68-79)
What would we have said after over nine months? Zechariah’s first words sing song of praise to God. Praise and gratitude. These are top of mind for him—the first thing that comes tumbling out of lips that haven’t formed words in nearly a year. They must have felt hoarse, straining through a throat dry from disuse, muscles atrophied from lack of exercise.
He sings praise to God. Immediately.
I can imagine him cradling his son in this tender moment, seeing the child’s future. Zechariah knows his boy’s great privilege—“He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.”
He must also know the cost—prophets were not historically beloved. Zechariah must have a glimpse of the pain that will come to his family along with the great joy. Nevertheless, his first words are praise and gratitude.
His next are also kind of amazing. He speaks of rescue, mercy, peace, light and forgiveness. John will be a firebrand—but his father is different.
As we saw a couple weeks ago, Mary, too, shines in the rebellious, single-minded visionary strength of youth. Her song trumpets joy at the renewal of creation as it was meant to be—and thus the overthrow of human institutions of oppression. She does not shrink from speaking, singing, truth to power.
Zachariah offers a gentler viewpoint, the experience of age that has seen and known and treads lightly in a harsh world. That he has quite recently been forced to listen, to hear the voices of others, to see their need and their viewpoint, I think changes his words here from what they might have been.
He speaks soft words, words of quiet and hope. Words that do indeed cry for a Savior who will change the world, but less a warrior than a pastor.
John will call people to repent. He will be rough and wild.
Zechariah knows that God’s mercy must fall on us for our repentance—that we are all in need, all fall short.
He realizes the truth Paul will later write:
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2.4)
It’s his kindness that leads us to repentance.
Zechariah is a pastor at heart. He cares deeply about the people. This is why he is worthy to offer prayers for the people. You know he is earnestly praying, deeply hoping, grieving, expecting with them right there in the temple.
He is thrilled that their salvation has come—their darkness is over.
Zechariah’s pastor’s heart and experience make him the perfect parent for one who is to pave the way for the savior.
His kindness leads you to repentance.
How much do we need Zechariahs today? Those who will remind people, recall them, turn them back whit words of kindness—not judgment, anger, or fear? The world is desperate with the need for a quiet soul.
Mary is the point—Zechariah is the counterpoint. Together, they tell a Gospel story that many of us try to separate. Jesus is both/and. He is a personal savior of peace and a societal savior of systems rife with sin.
There is room and need for both.
In Zechariah, we see a savior who offers us individual salvation and relationship, guidance and mercy, light and hope. We see a Messiah who will later say—“Come to me —I will give you rest.” We know a Savior who will touch the heads of tax collectors and prostitutes and tell them they are valuable in the kingdom.
You also see a Savior of the world in Mary’s Jesus—A King for justice and rightness and reconciliation in the entire created order.
It’s not one or the other.
It’s not one at expense of the other.
They cannot be separated.
The Gospel is a Gospel for each person and for the world.
It is Good News for all of it. The entire mess.
It is reconciliation for everything—everything.
These two songs together give us the picture of the whole Gospel and the whole Savior. They are the songs of a pastor and a prophet, and they sing a beautiful duet.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.