Christmas 2

Preached: January 3, 2010

Join Zechariah's Praise to the Lord
Luke 1:68-75

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Luke 1 records the Word from God which Holy Spirit gave Zechariah to speak at the birth of his son, John the Baptist. These words point us to Jesus, whom John prepared the way for.

“Praise to the Lord the God of Israel! For he has looked upon his people, ransomed them, and raised up for us the horn of salvation in the house of his servant David, just as he said through the mouth of his holy prophets long ago -- salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy among our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, in order to grant to us that, having been rescued from the hands of enemies, we fearlessly serve him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:68-75)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A. The Lord has ransomed you from fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address in 1933. There's some truth in those words. As the nation faced the Great Depression, fear could paralyze the efforts needed to move the economy forward.

You know the paralyzing effect of fear. Fear of failure prevents us from trying helpful things. Fear of the future, which we call worry, wastes away the present. Fear of disappoint stifles hope.

Maybe that's why Zechariah didn't believe the angel Gabriel when he told him his wife Elizabeth would have a son. They had tried for so many years. Why get his hopes up only to face the fear of disappointment? Fear can make ourselves our own worst enemy.

But let's face it. There is also more to fear than just fear itself. Wickedness and evil infect this world. The old evil foe is hard at work. Death clutches at each of us until it finally drags us into the grave. In fact, we don't even have to look past our own hearts to find evil.

Blindly ignoring this fear leads us into evil's arms as if we were good friends. Evil can put on a friendly face, but he aims to hurt, harm, and torture you. He is the enemy. Swallowing our fear and doing our best to battle evil leaves us helpless and hopeless, for we are no match for the devil and his forces. A newborn chick has a better chance of surviving a pack of wolves. Fear at least sees the truth that we cannot stand against the forces of evil or the prince of this world. Until we see that, Zechariah's praise to the Lord will seem like boring words or meaningless piousness.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68 NIV). A little child plays innocently in a park. Suddenly a man grabs her from behind and drags her into a van. She's gagged. A bag's pulled over her head. Dust stings her eyes. The smell of sweat and cigarette smoke twitch her nose. The tightening ropes cut into her wrist. Fear overwhelms her. What will happen to her? Will she ever see Mommy or Daddy again? How horrible that cold, dark night, alone and terrified! But the next morning, when those van doors open, her tears turn to joy. There stands Mom and Dad, ready to take her home. She's free! Why? Because the ransom had been paid. “He has come and has redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68 NIV). He has redeemed you, dear friend. His blood ransoms you. Praise to the Lord, our God!

The rhino calf was taking a drinking at the water hole. The tiger leaped at it. Soon the calf would have been ripped to shreds. But the mother rhinoceros charges out of the tall grass and drives the tiger away with her horn. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:69 NIV). So Jesus came from the house and line of David, born in Bethlehem, the town of David. He came to drive Satan away before that predator devoured us. Jesus saves you. Praise to the Lord, our God!

So see your real enemies. The sin that your inborn nature craves wants to re-kidnap you and steal you away from your true Father in heaven. But you have already been redeemed, bought at a price. Why sell yourself into slavery to sin again? Satan's icy fingers long to pull you back into his thrall of death and hell. But Jesus is mightier than Satan. Praise to the Lord, our God! For he was worked “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:71 NIV).

Here, dear friends, is the source of true fearlessness. This fearlessness rightly understands the terror of our sin, the tyranny of the devil, the torture of hell. It looks at death and sees the wages of sin, what our sin has rightly earned us. It sees our hopelessness, our helplessness, our wretchedness. But then this fearlessness rejoices in our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our Ransom, our Rescuer, our Strength, our Salvation. Praise to the Lord, our God!

B. The Lord drives out your doubts with his word

But what about our doubts? Doubt is the mother of fear. How can we drive out our doubts? Doubt led Zechariah to question the angels words that he and Elizabeth would have a son. So for nine months he could not speak. And maybe that is what we need: a time to stop speaking so that we listen instead.

For you see, dear friends, that's how the Lord drives out our doubts and takes away our fear. Not by our speaking, not even our speaking in prayer; but rather, by his speaking in his Word. He speaks his truth so that we listen and take it to heart. That's how throughout the ages he's replaced doubt with faith and fear with joy. He's spoken his promises and kept them, or as Zechariah puts it, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us . . . (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago)” (Luke 1:69, 70 NIV).

In fact, our God has done even more to make you sure. He not only spoke his truth but he put it into the form of a covenant, a solemn promise, sealed with blood, the blood of his own Son. He took an oath as he made his promise. So determined, earnest, and fervent is he to keep his word. His word alone is unbreakable, but he wanted his people to be so sure that he would keep his promise that he added an oath. He does not forget rather he remembers “his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:72, 73 NIV).

He made his oath to you at your baptism. He swore that in Jesus your sins are truly washed away, forgiven. He renews his covenant with you each time you eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper. Let his promise of truth drive out your doubts and turn your fear to joy. Praise to the Lord, our God!

C. The Lord enables you to serve him with joy

For look, dear friend, at what he given you and me to do. Now that he has rescued us from the hand of our enemies he grants us the blessing of serving him, as his own dear children. He enables us “to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:75 NIV).

Do you need a purpose for this new year? Are you looking for joy in the days ahead? Then consider your service to the Lord. I'm not talking in particular about church work. That's included, but think of all that you do throughout your life out of faith in Jesus: your chores at home, your responsibility as parents, your obedience as a child, your love and faithfulness as husband and wife, your diligence as a worker, your fairness and kindness as a neighbor. That's all service, and when it comes from faith in Jesus, you're offering it not only to your family and neighbors but also to the Lord. And wonders of wonders, he accepts your service when it flows from your faith in Jesus.

Think of how that brings joy in whatever task you have in front you in the year ahead. No matter how you may dislike it, offer it to your Lord trusting in Jesus alone. Offer it with faith and confidence, for he enables “us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:75 NIV).

But how can that be? Our works, even our best, fall short of God's standard of holiness and perfection. Nothing we do measures up. Even if we did our duty completely, we would still be unworthy servants. So how can we serve him without fear? Ought not the terror of the holy God strike horror in our hearts, so that we hide ashamed, for even our most righteous works our only filthy rags that cannot hide our nakedness.

Yes, that's our inborn, natural condition. That's the way we are without faith in Jesus. Remember Adam and Eve after they sinned, before God spoke the promise of the Savior.

But Jesus has rescued you. The Holy Spirit has kindled faith in your heart. That changes everything. Rather than slavish terror in laboring for a hard task master, we find delight in obeying the will of our Lord, who ransomed us to be his own. We serve him without fear, for we believe that Jesus has washed us clean. Jesus has dressed us in the wedding gown of his righteousness. Jesus presents us to his Father as his holy ones, his saints. Because of Jesus, the Father welcomes you who believe. He accepts and receives you as his dear child. That's what he promised when you were reborn into his family through baptism. That is your faith, dear friend.

Since he accepts you through faith in Jesus, will he not also accept your service in your daily life that flows out of faith in Jesus? As you carry out your role as husband or wife, parent or child, worker or employer, neighbor, citizen, and Christian, offer it all as service to your Lord. Offer it without fear in holiness and righteousness that flows from faith in Jesus. Such faith wants to do what is right in God's sight, what is lined up with his holy will and law. Such faith is confident that your heavenly Father welcomes your service. This confidence doesn't come because you've tried hard or done your best, though of course we want to offer our best. This confidence doesn't come because you've done better than others. Faith doesn't look at others, but looks at Jesus. And that's where the confidence comes from, from Jesus. The Father welcomes your service as if it came from Jesus himself, for through faith in Jesus you are God's own dear child.

So find joy in whatever your Lord gives you to do in this year ahead. Serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all your days. Bring your service to him like a little child bringing her coloring page home from school. She gives it to Mom and Dad not because she thinks she's done better that her classmates, not because she thinks it's a peace of fine art, not because she's tried hard and wants a reward for her effort, not because she thinks she needs to earn their approval. She gives it because she knows how much Mom and Dad love her and here is how she can show her love for them. And they welcome it as a gift of love saying well done.

In Jesus, your heavenly Father loves you even more dearly, and is ready to say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful child.”

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313