His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
What a wonderful breaking of the silence. Like Mary, Zechariah bursts into a song of praise (if a little belatedly). He too praises God for what he will do – more focussed on the future than relating past deeds, but still anticipating his eternal character. And it becomes more personal still, directed at this little boy called John. ‘And you, my child, will be called…’
This then, will be the preparer of the way. The one who goes before. (Reminiscent of Malachi 3v1 – ‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me….’).
This child is bringing in something new. What that ‘something’ is, is open to speculation. Did Zechariah know the full meaning of his words? This is merely the prologue. This little boy, who grows into a man, identifiable by being strong in spirit. He will give people the knowledge of salvation, through forgiveness of their sins. And this God by whose mercy comes, will be the source of the ‘rising sun’ coming to us from heaven. The ‘rising sun’ being a symbol of the Messiah…..
As a little girl I loved these lines, although I was struck at that time by what they said about GOD and his purposes. I loved, and still love, the verse ‘…the tender mercy of our God.’ There are those who would deny God’s mercy in this day and age. If God is so good, so kind, so loving then why? How? What’s he doing?
Sometimes I think we should be more grateful that he hasn’t thrown in his lot and started again. We, the supposed stewards of creation, have messed things up so badly that wouldn’t it be easier to start again – none of this restoration business? But God does not abandon us. He is, by very nature, faithful. And loves us. And has made us – us! – his image bearers. The image has got clouded and cracked but we live looking forward to the day when the cracks and the cloudedness and the damage is all cleaned up and we can be who we were created to be, at last. But God has not withdrawn the privilege. We might, humanly speaking, consider this not a very good business plan. Some people claiming to bring God’s truth have managed to alienate, isolate, hurt others and make fools of themselves….yet God does not take away the privilege, whatever mistakes we may make.
Do we secretly believe we could do it better? That we could invent a better system? We may sniff at words like atonement and salvation and think it all rather primitive for the modern world. And who made ‘modern’ mean ‘best’?
Does the way the world works, at a deeper level – the way life works – change with the culture? Can we extinguish the need for justice? Can we do away with the need for atonement? Just because we find it mildly offensive? We might ask ourselves – what do we find offensive? And be as honest as we can.
Some see the cross as an appalling act of a father to his son. What a distortion of the facts! This ignores the perfect unity of the Godhead, Father, Son, Spirit. Not just in essence but in purpose – in agreement. This was the painful, perfect plan of a loving and just God. Together as one it was accomplished. God himself did the atoning. To some these words have become so familiar they do not see the wonder. To some they are alien and mean nothing. To some they are mere foolishness.
But for all our opinions and debates, can truth be changed? Some might have it so. But this is the truth. (A phrase I could be sneered at for, these days). Jesus died on a cross – crucifixion, that horrible death – to finally repair that rift between God and humanity. To realign and heal the bridge between us. He did it with his own blood. We like things sterilized these days, kept away behind closed doors, as hygenic as possible. How ironic then, that blood spilt is what saves us.
That he may shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.
It is real, down-to-earth, bonafide salvation.
Because of God’s tender mercy.