Zecheriah's poem is a song - actually a prayer (a prophesy too!) - which we read without the foot-stomping, hand-slapping, body-swaying which would've been part of the original utterance. And so it's easy to skip over his song/prayer/poem. Don't! It's the heart of the gospel, the foundation for what Jesus will do as recorded by Luke. The song-poem catches the essence of what God has been doing in the world through Israel, and it points us forward to what God is going to do through Israel in the present. Of course if you don't know the OT very well, it will be too easy to miss all the connections Zecheriah is making with Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Malachai and others.
To help us connect with this song-prayer, ask yourself this question: what do you really want for Christmas? Really? To be serious for a moment: if you could ask God to intervene in the world, what would you want God to do?
To ask the question a different way: what are you praying for this Christmas season? At this time when we seek to keep Jesus at the center of CHRISTmas, what are you praying for God to do in this world for the good of others and the world? Zecheriah's song reveals to us what he was praying for with all his heart and mind, what he was praying for that would be a blessing to his people and the world.
Then Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation
in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David his servant,
Just as he promised long ago
through the preaching of his holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our fathers,
as he remembers to do what he said he'd do,
What he swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp,
So we can worship him without a care in the world,
made holy before him as long as we live.
And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest,"
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way,
one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
Luke 1v67-79 [The Message]
The song/prayer/prophesy of Zechariah is about God's restoration of Israel, and the world - God is always at work in the world going about his restoration of all things - and Zechariah is thrilled that he and his son will be part of it in a huge way. If you were to re-read this song/prayer, what themes of restoration would you find in it that describe what God is/will do?
It's important for us as disciples of Jesus to catch the significance of Zechariah's song - it was an important song to Jesus, and it should be to us. The song shaped Jesus' life, it was a foundation for what he would do and say in his ministry. Thus we would expect to make some connections between the stories and teachings of Jesus and what we read about in Zechariah's prayer. We'd think of Jesus' rescue of Levi from the treasonous and corrupt world of oppresive tax collectors; we'd think of Jesus' deliverance of children, women, and men from evil spirits, evil thoughts, evil attitudes and practices; we'd think of Jesus forgiving sins and healing hearts/minds of those that would trust him; we'd think of Jesus instructing his followers on how to be peacemakers, how to reconcile and make peace with neighbors, strangers, and enemies.
So if we are going to let Zechariah's prayer become our prayer, like Jesus did, then we'd want our life, our story to begin to be influenced by it as Jesus' was. Who are people in our world/neighborhood/sphere of influence that need rescued out of destructive habits/attitudes/thoughts/actions? Who are people in our place of work/school who need to be given an alternative to the evil the see around them? Who do you know that needs to be forgiven? Who do you know that needs help to forgive? Who needs healing? Anyone you know that needs help in making reconciliation a reality? Anybody need more peace?
There are lots of prayers we could be offering up to the LORD this Christmas season. There are lots of things we want for ourselves and the world. But like Zechariah, and Jesus, maybe we ought to consider what God wants us to want. Not that we are incapable of getting our wants right, but often it seems that our wants become too self-centered, too small, too narrow. This Christmas, pray that God would reveal to you what you ought to want this Christmas season.
More than material possessions, more than modern convenience, more than increased leisure - may God whet our appetites for evermore peace in our homes, mercy in our workplace, justice in our courts, truth in our schools, righteousness in our churches, generosity in our neighborhoods, love in our world. May God reveal to you what you can do everyday to contribute to his ongoing work to restore all things as they are meant to be. This is what God cares about, this is what Jesus has come to do, and this is what his Spirit is trying to do in and through us. And God wants to use you to guide others into the paths of peace.