I wonder why you praise God for sending his son at Christmas. Is it because of the forgiveness that Jesus’ later death and resurrection would afford? Is it because Jesus was the means by which we can have a restored relationship with God? Is it because we remember how the first stage of the promise of a (distant) future to be spent in God’s new creation was beginning to be put into action? These reasons are good reasons to praise God for sending his son into the world. But going to this year’s carol services and hearing the typical Christmas readings each week has made me, yet again, re-evaluate my reasons for praising God at Christmas.
Zechariah, in his song at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, sings of his delight having foreseen the arrival of Jesus. What makes his song particularly interesting are his reasons for praise. Of particular note is that these have nothing overtly to do with his own forgiveness, his own sin, his assurance of eternity. No, Zechariah’s reasons are much ‘earthier.’ Here’s his song:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Zechariah’s reasons for praising are because his (and Israel’s) enemies, ‘those who hate’ him and whom he fears will be done away with. He will be ‘redeemed’ and ‘rescued.’ ‘Salvation’ from them has come. Zechariah’s reasons for praise are far from reasons of personal piety. Zechariah’s reasons are that God has, in sending King Jesus, brought about a new age. An age in which the world’s enemies will be overthrown and God’s people can serve him without fear.
This was a great encouragement to me as I read this passage. The stresses and strains of writing a PhD, of keeping up with teaching, of being anxious about that job I hoped to get were put into context. And the fears, hatred and fighting of our world at the end of 2015, like the oppression of the Middle East when Quirinius was governor of Syria, can also be understood in a new light. The King of the universe has arrived. I need not spend Christmas reflecting upon these things as one who has no hope, but as one who has seen the King arrive and beginning to conquer.