Pastor James Hopkins wrote this sermon for the fourth Wednesday of Advent 12/23/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 3pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, use the order of Vespers found on LSB page 229 (with Psalm 145 and hymn #359) or download it here: Advent4 Vespers
The old priest, Zechariah, saw in the old lady’s arms his son, a miracle born out of time, circumcised into the promise made to Abraham.
He had no expectation that he’d ever play with his grandchildren, or see his son grow into adulthood. He was too old for that, but he sang for joy nonetheless. For the Lord God of Israel had visited and redeemed His people and raised up a horn of salvation for them and for us in the house of His servant David.
That Horn was not the boy being circumcised that day, but was His cousin yet un-born in Mary’s womb.
Zechariah and John aren’t of the house of David from Judah. They are from the house of Aaron and Levi. But God had spoken by the prophets of old that He would save His people, even the priestly caste, from their enemies and all who hated them. He had promised to show mercy to the Hebrews and He had, and He had promised to remember and never forget the Holy Covenant and promise that He swore to Abraham in circumcision: He would be their God forever, on their side, and He would give them an everlasting possession. Thus, by that promise, by that grace and mercy, God’s people served Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all their days, even as they waited for all that the prophets had foretold to come to pass.
And there it was, not in the fruit of Elizabeth’s womb, but in cousin Mary’s womb. That is why Zechariah rejoiced and praised God. He was gladly passing on, glad to no longer be needed at the temple. John is circumcised to usher in the end of the temple and the Levitical priesthood. Thus, he is not only not named after his father, but he doesn’t even follow his father into the priesthood. Though he is born to it, he is not a priest but a prophet.
This is why Zechariah sings. He sings because he had a baby when he was old – to be sure, that is worthy cause of joy, but he sings more because he has a Messiah in the house of David, and the Temple service is fulfilled and therefore old age and death are not the end. Old Zechariah didn’t get to play with John’s children on earth, most likely John didn’t have any children in any case, but Zechariah was surely dead before he could have.
Yet Zechariah now enjoys the company of the Holy Innocents and all the grandchildren in heaven and even John himself. The Messiah comes when no one of David’s House is left, and the imposter Herod sits falsely on the throne. The House of Jesse is a stump, cut down, a waste. The kings of Judah and Israel are done. They have gone away, even as the temple fades and so do the prophets. But out of the stump comes a shoot. Still Zechariah and John are the end of the Old and Jesus is a new beginning.
We no longer need prophets, priests, or kings. We have the Messiah. He fulfills the roles of all three and one more: He makes Himself also the sacrificial victim, the scape goat, and the Mercy Seat. He is not born like John out of an old, would-be barren womb, but He springs forth out of a virgin, to make children out of Gentiles and to make us leap like newborn calves in spring.
He is the Most High of Whom John is a prophet. John goes before Him to prepare His way and that way is prepared not only by a preaching of repentance and knocking down mountains, but also by pointing to the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, by giving knowledge of Salvation in Christ, by proclaiming forgiveness in Baptism, to fill in the valleys. Thus does John still give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. And thus does he still guide our feet into the way of peace.
This is how he prepares us not simply for Jesus to be born or even for Jesus to die and to rise. This is how we are prepared to meet Jesus when He comes again in glory: we repent and believe, we confess and rejoice, we kneel for the absolution, for the Holy Communion, and for the benediction. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.