Christmas meant Liberation Praise: Luke 1:68-75
Like many of his day, no one perhaps more than the pious priests, Zechariah longed for the day when the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel would end. Some scholars today are nervous about overdoing the Roman “occupation” of the Land, but Rome ruled the entire Roman empire and that meant that it was in control of the Land and the Temple – even if Jews were left to manage it for themselves. Still, Rome was there and it was a reminder that the “exile was not completely over.” (N.T. Wright has made much of the category “end of the exile,” and I find it historically justifiable and theologically potent.)
So, when Zechariah hears the news from the Angel Gabriel and then sees this baby born to fulfill that promise of the Angel, Zechariah simply explodes into song. Some emphasize, perhaps with good reasons, that Zechariah’s praise not only springs from the birth of his own son, but also because that son’s birth is connected to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. (Nolland’s commentary emphasizes this – to the point of nearly eliminating John altogether.)
This song is called the Benedictus because that is the first Latin word of the song.
In this praise song because of the birth of his baby boy, John (Yohanan), Zechariah winds and wends his way through the pages of Scripture to these special words – and remember these words are evoked for no other reason than the promised birth of this boy:
God has visited (NIV: “has come”). God’s gracious visitation to redeem and liberate.
God has ransomed (NIV: “has redeemed”): my favorite Christmas song, by far, is “O Come, O Come Immanuel – and ransom captive Israel.”
God has raised up a horn of salvation.
God has shown mercy and remembered his covenant.
God has rescued us so we can serve him without fear.
For these “mighty acts” of God, Zechariah blesses and praises God. Christmas, for Zechariah, was a time of intense praise to God for his redemptive work in liberating Israel from its condition of oppression. It might be easy to forget, with all these evocative terms now on the table, that this is a song of praise and that these terms are wrapped up in a package of praise rather than a listing of social activism duties.
There is an unconscious weaving together here of socio-economic, political and spiritual redemption – and neither Zechariah nor Luke thought there was (or is) any reason to distinguish them or rank them. God’s “salvation’ is the redemption of the entire person, the entire people, the entire world.
Liberation is the key word for Zechariah.