Years ago when our youngest son Paul was about 4 ½ years old, he decided to count down the days to Christmas. He had just enough memory and cognizance to realize that Christmas was an exciting time.
For weeks he asked us over and over—“When’s Christmas? When’s Christmas?” We told him that Christmas would come after Thanksgiving, and he accepted that. We had a great Thanksgiving that year with our extended family, and Paul loved all the fun and excitement.
Then Friday morning came.
You see, somehow we had neglected to tell Paul that Christmas comes several weeks after Thanksgiving—not the next day. He was not happy when he woke up on Friday morning to learn that he still had to wait for Christmas to come. The anticipation was hard for him to handle.
Grief in Anticipation
Sometimes anticipation contains an element of grief no matter how old you may be. People in this time of year often experience sad memories; they may be pained, for instance, by remembering dear ones who are missing from their holiday gatherings. We experience that in our family every year, and we have a time of remembrance.
Anticipation is often mixed with pain, but of course it is also mixed with joy. In the full Christian scope of things, we anticipate the resurrection of the dead and the new heaven and earth. We look forward to the day when our pains and losses and painful memories will be so thoroughly baptized and redeemed that they will be transformed into the joys of the kingdom of God.
The gospel of Luke is sometimes called the gospel of joy; it begins and ends with singing, and it contains many references to joy and rejoicing.
Two Improbable Sons
Luke begins with a birth announcement delivered to a most unlikely couple. Zacharias and Elizabeth were advanced in age, and they had never been able to have children. They certainly didn’t expect to be granted a child in their old age.
They were from priestly families, and Zacharias was on rotation to work in the temple in Jerusalem from time to time. Luke tells us that an angel appeared to Zacharias while he was in the temple one day. The angel told Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would have a son. This son would be an Elijah-like figure, the forerunner of the Lord.
Zacharias was stunned. He asked, “How will I know this for certain?” (Luke 1:18) The angel detected a note of doubt, and Zacharias was immediately struck dumb:
And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time. (Luke 1:20)
Luke goes on to tell us that this same angel, Gabriel, later appeared to a virgin named Mary. Gabriel told Mary,
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. (Luke 1:31)
Notice how Mary’s response was different from Zacharias’:
Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)
Mary submitted to the Lord and did not doubt in the way that Zacharias doubted; instead, she hurried to Zacharias and Elizabeth and stayed with them until their son was born.
Related Christmas Blogs:
- Don’t Miss Christmas: Are you ready?
- Light of the World: In the Beginning
- Don’t Miss Christmas: Hearing God’s Voice (Video)
The Songs in Luke
I mentioned earlier that Luke begins and ends with singing. The gospel of Luke highlights four ancient canticles, or songs. You’re probably already familiar with these songs; they’re an important part of worship tradition.
Magnificat, Mary’s Song
The first of these is Mary’s song. (Luke 1:46-55) Mary may not have sung this passage, but it’s certainly poetic.
The earliest languages into which the Greek New Testament was translated were Syriac and Latin. Mary’s song gets its name from the first Latin word in this passage, magnificat:
My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior. (Luke 1:46-47)
Benedictus, Song of Zacharias
The song of Zacharias comes next. When his son was born and it came time to name the baby, his friends and relatives assumed he would name the boy Zacharias. They were confused when Elizabeth told them the boy’s name was John. Zacharias was asked what he wanted to name his son, and he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John.” At that moment Zacharias’ mouth was opened, and he was able to speak again. Luke tells us that immediately “he began to speak in praise of God.” (Luke 1:64)
Zacharias’ prophetic song (Luke 1:68-79) is named for the first word in the Latin translation of this passage—you may have heard it called the benedictus:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant… (Luke 1:68-69)
The song goes on to talk about the house of David, the house of Abraham, and the promises that God made to Abraham. It ends with thanksgiving and praise to God because now He has accomplished this great salvation.
Gloria, Song of the Angels
The third song is found in Luke chapter 2. Notice how many of the songs we sing at Christmastime relate to or grow out of the song the angels sang to shepherds in the fields:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (Luke 2:14)
Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s Song
The fourth song is found later in the story, after the shepherds visited Mary and Joseph. It came time for the baby to be circumcised and for Mary to take part in the traditional Jewish purification ritual, so they went to the Temple.
While Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in the temple, they met a man whose name was Simeon. He was apparently advanced in age, and he’d been told by the Lord that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah come. Somehow, by means of a spiritual anointing, he recognized that the baby Jesus was the Messiah. Simeon’s song is called the nunc dimittis, which means “now he may depart:”
Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to
depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation… (Luke 2:29-30)
After he had sung or recited this joy-filled poem, Simeon went on to say some things that sounded ominous. We’ll take a close look at those in my next blog post.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Kingsland Baptist Church on December 15, 2013. A video of his original remarks may be viewed here.