Friends, today’s Gospel tells the story of the birth and naming of John the Baptist. John’s father Zechariah had been rendered speechless after his vision in the sanctuary, but we hear that “his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.” What follows this passage is the wonderful Canticle of Zechariah, which puts Jesus and John in the context of the great story of Israel. I would like to explore two lines of that great prayer today.
The God of Israel, Zechariah prays, “has come to his people and set them free.” This is what God always wants to do. He hates the fact that we’ve become enslaved by sin and fear, and accordingly, he wants to liberate us. The central event of the Old Testament is an event of liberation from slavery. We are, as sinners, enslaved to our pride, our envy, our anger, our appetites, our greed, our lust—all of which wrap us up and keep us from being the people that we want to be.
Zechariah continues: “He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” God will effect this liberation through the instrumentation of a mighty Savior. This should be read against the background of Israel’s long history of military struggle against its enemies. A great warrior has come, and he is from the house of Israel’s greatest soldier, David. God had promised that he would put a descendant of David on the throne of Israel for all eternity, and Zechariah is prophesying that this will take place.