“The Lord Has Mercy”
Text: Luke 1:67-79; Zephaniah 3:14-20
Zechariah had a lot of reasons to rejoice. He now held in his arms the gift of a son, he now had received the gift of his voice back, and after nine months of silence and meditation on the Word of God, he now knew - better than ever - the merciful plan of God that was now being fulfilled. How do we know that? He said so. In the words he spoke that we heard tonight.
For Luke told us that Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit. That happens through the Word. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word and works through the Word and Zechariah’s nine months in the Word of God had filled him with the Holy Spirit. And thus filled, he spoke. He prophesied, which is to say, he spoke the Word of God. By looking back in meditation, Zechariah could look forward in expectation.
And at the center of his words, and the center of their meaning, was this: the Lord was now showing the mercy promised to our fathers; He was remembering His holy covenant. Now was the appointed time. Now was the time of fulfillment. Now was the time when, as Zephaniah had said: The Lord would take away His judgments against His people, when He would clear away their enemies, when He would be in their midst, and they would fear no more.
It had been a long time coming. This was the promise first spoken to Adam and Eve in the Garden, and then repeated down through the years to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. They only saw it from afar, but now it was coming to completion. God had now visited and redeemed His people. He had raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. Yes, the promised son of David who would sit on his throne forever was now coming. Because in John, Zechariah’s son, the forerunner was here. The one to go before the Lord and prepare His way. To get the people ready. The sun was coming up on the darkness of sin, and that sin would soon be scattered in the light of His forgiveness.
And so old Zechariah cannot contain his joy. He too fulfills what Zephaniah said: Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Yes, that was Zechariah. Filled with the Spirit. Filled with the joy of the Lord.
And it is you too. For this mercy, this joy, is for you too. Not just the passing joy of opening a few gifts on Christmas morning - however great they might be - but the joy, as Zechariah said, of being delivered from our enemies, that we might serve our Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days. For in Jesus, God has visited and redeemed His people. In Jesus, our enemies of sin, death, and the devil have been defeated. In Jesus, we no longer serve the Lord in fear but in freedom. And in Jesus, we are holy and righteous. Zechariah had a lot of reasons to rejoice, but so do we!
For the Lord has not just visited His people, He has visited you. The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah, but God came to you in Holy Baptism and filled you there with His Spirit. And there you became an heir of the covenant, the next in the long line of salvation. Salvation from your enemy sin, now forgiven. Salvation from your enemy death, now not a dead end but the door to life everlasting. And salvation from your enemy the devil, who now has no claim on you. For you have been redeemed and belong to the One who bought you not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
This is our anchor, that keeps us from drifting aimlessly through this world and life. Our anchor which enables us to look forward in faith and hope. Knowing that the Lord is merciful still, and that the light of His Word continues to rise upon us, scattering the darkness of sin and death, that we live in His light and life as He guides our feet in the way of peace.
So whatever is going on in your life, follow Zechariah’s example and look back. Look back on how God acted for His people. How He cared for them and provided for them. How He rescued them and led them. How He forgave them and was with them. Whatever is going on in your life, look back and you will see a God who is faithful and merciful and knows how to care for you. For as He has done in the past, so He will do in the future. And this is the knowledge that will bring you peace. The knowledge that you are not alone, but have a God who has visited and redeemed you, and is with you still, filling you with His Spirit and His life. Yes, the Lord is near.
And so as we draw closer to the end of this Advent season and to the joy of Christmas, leave tonight with this thought too: we are not the only ones for whom this season brings joy. As Zephaniah said: the Lord rejoices over you. That’s how much He loves you. That’s how much you matter to Him. That’s why He came for you, and comes for you still. You are His joy, and there is nothing your Lord wants more than to have you with Him. Think about that for a bit, like Zechariah did, and see if that does not fill you with wonder and joy, too.
Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for Your great mercy and love for us that while we were still sinners, You sent Your Son in mercy and love to die for us. Give us the joy of Zechariah this Christmas season, help us remember that You also delight and rejoice over us, Your dear children, and enable us to look forward to Your second advent with confidence. Grant us, Lord, to not be too busy to remember and meditate on the past, rejoice in the future, and give thanks for the present - and for Your presence with us always, in mercy, for our salvation; through Jesus Christ, You Son, we pray, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.