Normally, our second reading from the Lectionary is from the collection of Psalms in the Old Testament. But for this second Sunday of Advent, the Lectionary takes us to the New Testament, to Luke 1:68-79, and guess what we find there? A Psalm! A New Testament Psalm. And one that I think you’ll find is very prophetic.
We read that this psalm was given by Zechariah the priest who ministered in Jerusalem in the very early part of the first century AD. More than 400 years had gone by since Malachi wrote our first reading, and life had changed once again for the people of Israel. The Persians in Malachi’s day were defeated by the Greeks, and then the Romans conquered the Greeks. The Romans did massive building projects, including a huge new temple in Jerusalem. And that is where Zechariah ministered.
In Luke 1, we find out that Zechariah had a problem. He couldn’t talk. He was made mute by God as we read in verses 19-20. He was silent for nine months! Nine months…what happens in nine months? Babies are born. There was a pregnancy. Who’s pregnancy? It was his wife, Elizabeth, who was pregnant. She and Zechariah were old, and thought they were past child-bearing age, but God came to Zechariah in a vision and said they were going to have a baby, and get this, God said their baby was going to be the first messenger God promised in Malachi 3! Zechariah was an upright man, Luke tells us, but he was blown away by this news. He and his wife were old, so he questioned God, “How can this be?” At that moment of Zechariah’s disbelief, his mouth was closed by God.
After nine months of silence, what are the first words out of his mouth? As we read in verse 64, his first words are praise to God. No anger at such a longtime. No bitterness. But praise! Filled with the Holy Spirit, here is what Zechariah said.
First in verses 68-75 he is rehashing the covenant promise God made to David, about God freeing Israel from their enemies. He uses the Old Testament phrase, “a horn of salvation” which indicates strength, like the strong horn of an animal. Then he prays, “enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” There’s that word again, righteousness. Zechariah is praising God that his prophecies are being fulfilled right before his eyes.
Where the prevailing idea of the people was that the way God would fulfill his prophecies was to boot the Romans from their land and turn Israel into a regional superpower again, like it was in the days of Solomon, Zechariah understood that God had a much bigger vision that than, and it had to do with righteousness.
Zechariah continues this flow of thought in verses 76-79 which are a commentary about his son John as the fulfillment of the first messenger of Malachi 3. He says his son, John, is the first messenger who will prepare the way for the second messenger, and here again we read about the big plans God has!
What are God’s plans? Zechariah says the plans are to give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of God. What great news!
He then uses imagery of the skies when he says, “By which the rising sun will come from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
So in the first two readings we have heard the prophecy of the two messengers, how it will be a new covenant based on righteousness, and we have seen that Zechariah believed his new baby son John was the first messenger.
In part 4 we’ll move to the third reading, and I think you’ll see very quickly how it connects to the first two.