The Lord Visits His Covenant People

John’s ministry of preparing Israel for the coming Messiah consisted of preaching and baptizing. He preached a gospel of repentance, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” He preached a gospel of salvation, pointing to the coming Messiah, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) And he baptized his followers with water in a purification rite as a sign of the forgiveness of sins.

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7;  John 1:1-16; Luke 1:57-80; Luke 1:68-79 (text)
December 5, 2010

‎"Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist" by Francesco Granacci (1469–1543, Florence)
‎"Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist" by Francesco Granacci (1469–1543, Florence)

Introduction

In the fullness of time, God began executing the drama of the end of the Old Testament age. The birth of Jesus was that time, and there were four main characters: Zechariah the priest and Elizabeth his wife; and Joseph the carpenter and Mary his betrothed wife.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were both advanced in years and beyond childbearing, but they had no child. On that one day that he was chosen to minister at the Temple, Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel who announced to him that their prayer for a child has been heard by God. Elizabeth would bear a son! He shall be called John, and he will come “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared,” a forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Although he was a righteous man, Zechariah doubted God’s promise as he requested for a sign, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” So God silenced his tongue. Six months later, Mary her young cousin, who was also with child, visited her. The six-month-old John in the womb leaped in reaction to Mary’s visit, which is taken to mean that even in the womb, the Spirit-filled infant John already recognized his newly-conceived Lord and Savior!

And after John was born, God loosened Zechariah’s tongue, and as he was filled with the Spirit, he burst into a song of praise to God beginning in verse 68, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Zechariah’s song is given the name “Benedictus,” from the opening word in the Latin Vulgate. This visiting and redeeming his people is the theme that brackets Zechariah’s song, as he repeats it in verse 78, “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.”

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