“The Sunrise Shall Visit Us from On High”
Psalm 107:10-16 ; Luke 1:76-79 (text)
December 21, 2014 â€¢ Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Why is Christmas traditionally a season of lights? Many want to outdo one another in lighting up their homes, malls and other buildings with multi-colored lights and decorations. We’re all amazed at the creativity of those who surround their homes with all kinds of lighted decorations. Most people in the northern hemisphere say that it’s because they want to brighten long, dark winter nights.
What about us Christians? Surely, the universal answer is that it symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the World. Right at the beginning of the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus, â€œThe true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the worldâ€ (John 1:9).
In this Sunday before Christmas Day, we come to the third lesson in our series on the Song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, in Luke 1:67-79. The first lesson was Zechariah’s prophecy that â€œa horn of salvationâ€ foretold by the prophets was coming. The second lesson was that this â€œhorn of salvationâ€ was coming because God has â€œremembered his holy covenantâ€ with faithful Abraham.
Today, in our third lesson, we will meditate on this â€œhorn of salvationâ€ whom Zechariah prophesied as â€œThe Sunrise Shall Visit Us from On High.â€ This â€œSunriseâ€ will come, first, â€œTo Give Knowledge of Salvationâ€; and second, â€œTo Give Light to Those Who Sit in Darkness.â€
To Give Knowledge of Salvation
In the last verses of his song, 76-79, Zechariah begins by shifting his focus on his coming child, John, who â€œwill be called the prophet of the Most High.â€
Zechariah and Elizabeth must have been rejoicing with all their neighbors when John was born, after waiting for so long to have a child. But the angel Gabriel revealed to them more reason for rejoicing. Their son would be a prophet of the Most High God, the forerunner or messenger of the coming Messiah!
The Old Testament prophets saw another Prophet coming, who would be greater than all of them. But before this greatest Prophet came, another great prophet would prepare Godâ€™s people for his coming. John would go before the Lord to prepare his ways, as Luke later tells us, â€œThe voice of one crying in the wilderness: â€œPrepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straightâ€ (Luke 3:4),quoting Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 40:3, â€œA voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’â€ (Isa 40:3).
After the Jews returned from exile, for 400 years, God was silent, and the people longed for the coming of the Consolation of Israel that Isaiah prophesied. Finally, the angel Gabriel revealed to Zechariah that the fullness of time has come. At long last, a prophet! After 400 years, God had heard the peopleâ€™s groaning!
The angel told Zechariah that John would prepare the people of Israel for Jesus, the coming Messiah who would be born six months later by Mary their cousin, â€œAnd he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the childrenâ€ (Luke 1:16-17). He would live and preach in the wilderness, just as the prophet Elijah did, warning people to repent and believe because judgment is coming.
Malachi also prophesied that a prophet like Elijah would come, â€œBehold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before meâ€ (Mal 3:1), and â€œBehold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathersâ€ (Mal 4:5-6). This prophecy was applied by the angel Gabriel to John the Baptizer. John is not Elijah who returned to the world, but his person and ministry would be similar to Elijahâ€™s (Matt 17:12-13).
His ministry of preparing Israel for the coming Messiah consisted of preaching and baptizing. He preached a gospel of repentance, â€œRepent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!â€ John preached a gospel of salvation, pointing to the coming Messiah, â€œBehold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!â€ (John 1:29) And he baptized his followers with water in a purification rite as a symbol of the forgiveness of sins, â€œJohn appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sinsâ€ (Mark 1:4). In this way, he prepared the way of the coming Lord.
In the last two verses of his song, Zechariah then shifts his focus from his own son to the Messiah of whom his son is a messenger. Why would God, after 400 years of silence, suddenly come and visit his people?
It is because God has a â€œmerciful heartâ€ towards his people. He never forgets his covenant promises to Abraham and David. In the fullness of time, he would send the One who would save his people from sin. Godâ€™s mercy and compassion towards his people come from within his very Being, his very essence and nature. In his mercy, he could not forget his peopleâ€™s longing and groaning, and their slavery to Satan, sin and death. How did he show such tender mercy?
â€œTo Give Light to Those Who Sit in Darknessâ€
By sending his â€œSunriseâ€¦ from on high.â€ Here, Zechariah uses several metaphors which refer to the Messiah as the Light. The word â€œsunriseâ€ is also translated sometimes as â€œrising sun,â€ â€œdayspringâ€ or â€œdawn.â€ [ref]The Greek word anatole can also mean â€œbranchâ€ or â€œscionâ€ (Ezek 16:7; Zech 6:12), the same name used for the future Davidic king (Jer 23:5; Zech 3:8; Jer 33:15; Isa 11:1-10; Mal 3:20). But â€œfrom on highâ€ harmonizes better with the motifs of light and darkness, hence â€œSunriseâ€ is a better interpretation.[/ref] Jesus is this Sun, Dayspring, or Light. This is why the apostle John declares that Jesus is â€œthe light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome itâ€¦ The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the worldâ€ (John 1:4-5, 9). The Old Testament prophets referred to him also in the same way:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined (Isa 9:2).
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isa 60:1-3).
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings (Mal 4:2).
Even the false prophet Balaam in the Book of Numbers saw from afar this Light whom the prophets of old spoke about, â€œa star shall come out of Jacobâ€ (Num 24:17). All the way to the last chapter of Scripture, Christ is called â€œthe bright morning starâ€ (Rev 22:16). The words of the great Christmas hymn, â€œHark! The Herald Angels Singâ€ are based on the Scripture texts above:
Hail the heavâ€™n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Risâ€™n with healing in His wings.
These are also the same metaphors that Paul uses to describe the state of believers before and after salvation: darkness and light. He describes unbelievers as those who â€œare darkened in their understandingâ€ (Eph 4:18). And, â€œfor at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of lightâ€ (Eph 5:8). Since we are now children of light, we are to live as such, â€œThe night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of lightâ€ (Rom 13:12).
Contrary to the belief of many of his disciples, Christ did not come to deliver his people from political oppressors and enemies, but to reconcile us with our No. 1 enemyâ€”God himselfâ€”who is wrathful against condemned sinners like us. He also delivers us from our bondage to sin and Satan, the murderer, liar and oppressor who hates all mankind, especially those of us who belong to the kingdom of God.
Our reading in Psalm 107 illustrates the plight of unrepentant sinners. Like those in death row today, they are in chains in dark, empty dungeons, in the shadow of death. Why? Because they are rebels against God, they don’t listen to God’s Word and counsel (verses 10-11). In their imprisonment with hard labor, they found themselves helpless in their bondage and sufferings. Those of us who lived ungodly and wayward lives of rebellion in the past know this condition too well.
But there is always hope. The Holy Spirit can renew even the most hardened hearts of sinners. No heart is hard enough to resist the work of the Spirit of God in softening it and giving it new life. Then the psalmist says this sinner â€œcried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apartâ€ (verses 13-14).
Are you this sinner in bondage to sin and rebellion against God, suffering in your sin, bowed down, helpless, and in the dark shadow of death? Know that Christ, the Sunrise who came into the world, will deliver you from your dark life of sin and distress. Paul encourages us to leave the dark, godless world of sin around us, saying, â€œLet us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousyâ€ (Rom 13:12-14).
These are the works of people in darkness, not those who are in the light. If you desire to be delivered from these works of darkness, come to Christ in repentance of your sins and faith along in him. He is the only One who is able to help you in your time of distress. He will take you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
As a result of our salvation, Christ will guide our feet (Isa 42:6-7) through his holy Word, â€œa lamp to my feet and a light to my pathâ€ (Psa 119:105). What is our guide in our life? Is it the wisdom of the world or the wisdom of Godâ€™s Word? When his Word is our guide, Christ will lead us into the way of peace, because he is the Prince of Peace, and he governs his kingdom, the church, in peace, justice and righteousness (Isa 9:7). It is those who preach the Word of God who â€œbrings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvationâ€ (Isa 52:7).
Beloved friends, as you begin celebrating Christmas this year, consider John, who was a herald for Christ, preaching repentance and giving knowledge of salvation to the people in the forgiveness of their sins. Most of all, he pointed them to the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Since you have been redeemed by the Savior, you too are heralds of Christ, having the beautiful feet of those who bring the good news of peace, happiness and salvation to your family and friends by your words and deeds of holiness and righteousness.
Consider Jesusâ€”the Sunrise, Dayspring and Dawnâ€”who shines light to a dark and hopeless world by visiting and redeeming his people from Satanâ€™s kingdom of sin and death. John preached repentance and forgiveness, but Christ accomplished all salvation. He came down from heaven to be born in human flesh and blood, fulfilled all righteousness in his life and death, and rose from the grave for our justification and new life.
This Christmas, if you have no Christ in you, no God, and reject God’s Word as mere legends and foolishness, come to Christ. He is able to help you. He is able to give you the only true Christmas gift: God sent his only-begotten Son to and his Spirit to give you faith and repentance, to save you from your rebellion and rejection.