Context for Christmas

In Luke 1:67-79, we hear Zechariah’s Christmas hymn. In this hymn, Zechariah prophesies about the role that John and Jesus play in fulfilling Old Testament hopes and expectations. This passage reminds us that the wonder of Christmas is enhanced by a robust biblical theology that roots itself in the Old Testament Scriptures.

The most commonly articulated Old Testament context for Christmas is the failure of humanity and Israel to live up to God’s perfect standard. Indeed, the Old Testament does teach us that our condemnation is deserved and that apart from Christ we have no hope of salvation.

It is intriguing, however, that this is not the approach that Zechariah takes. In fact, there is not a single mention of God’s judgment against sin in his Christmas hymn. Rather, Zechariah celebrates the unconditional promises of grace that God gave to David and Abraham. He then proceeds to prophecy that his son is the man chosen by God to introduce the One who would make these Old Testament promises of grace a reality.

Zechariah’s Christmas Hymn (Luke 1:67-79)

67And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

Zechariah prophesies that the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7) is about to be fulfilled:

68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;

Zechariah prophesies that the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17) is about to be fulfilled:

72to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah prophesies that John will be the prophet who announces the coming of the Fulfiller, Jesus, the Lord:

76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

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