The God Who Makes House Calls
June 23, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Verse: Luke 1:69
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
THE GOD WHO MAKES HOUSE CALLS
One great change my generation has observed is that doctor's no longer make house calls. There was a time when many physicians devoted their afternoons to visiting patients who were even moderately ill. That is no longer available. But God has not changed like that. Our text for today tells the story of God who made a house call on Zechariah, the priest. This was the beginning of His great house call on the world, when He would send the Messiah, Jesus, to be the Great Physician.
In this preliminary house call, God set in motion the birth of St. John the Baptist. St. John is the only person in the New Testament, besides our Lord, who is called "great." Most saints are celebrated on the day they died. Not John. He was sanctified before he was born, reacting in the womb as his mother greeted the mother of our Lord. St. Luke tells us that St. Elizabeth was six months along in her pregnancy with the Baptist when our Lord's conception was first announced. So the Church, in determining the quarter days, set the birth of John a half year apart from Christmas, with the Annunciation half way between. Both of John's parents were of priestly families, from the tribe of Levi, while Jesus was on both sides of the family from the House of David. John lived as a Nazirite, one who performed the most strenuous of life styles, while Jesus lived in freedom. John's parents were elderly, while Jesus was born of a virgin. All of these were God's metaphors for showing us that in John we have the end of the old age, and in Jesus the beginning of the new.
Zechariah's ailment was that he was speechless. He had been ever since the angel in the temple told him he would have a son. Zechariah had been burning incense when the angel appeared, again, symbolic of the fulfillment of the ceremonial law. God's house call came when all the relatives were there for the baby's circumcision, when he would be given a name. God in His mercy opened the mouth of Zechariah, allowing him to tell everybody that the baby's name would be John. After that Zechariah could talk. Did he ever have a lot to say! He broke forth into a song of praise, which we call the Benedictus. It is in our hymnal on page 38. In this great hymn Zechariah gave thanks for sending the Messiah, then prophesied about his son who would prepare the way of the Lord.
Notice that Zechariah called Jesus a "horn of salvation." We don't use that expression today, but consider the depth of it. A horn is first of all a weapon, a means of deliverance. Then it is a musical instrument, like the shofar, to celebrate deliverance. And third, it is the container of the holy oil for anointing prophets, priests, and kings. So we read in Psalm 89, I have found David, my servant, with holy oil I have anointed him … I will beat down his foes before him …my faithfulness and mercy shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted. Or consider Ezekiel 29: On that day I shall cause a horn to spring forth to the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Imagine how that last clause applied to Zechariah. But that prophecy was as much for us as for him. Our foes are many, but we can rely on the Horn of Salvation, our King who will utterly defeat them. They flee in His name.
Zechariah also knew that this wasn't just a private blessing. God was making a house call on the whole world. Although the world was mortally wounded by the devil, and mortally sick with all manner of wickedness, the Messiah was coming, and for far more than just a visit. God would be incarnate, giving himself up unto death for our redemption. So Zechariah sings: To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins. That meant He had to first satisfy the justice of God upon sin, by His death. As all men fell through Adam, so all are redeemed by the sacrifice of the innocent Christ.
So John, again referring to the bloodshed of forgiveness, pointed out the Lamb of God, not just to those immediately present, but to us. We stand, in our imagination, beside the Jordan, and follow the finger of John to that figure who needed no Baptism, yet nevertheless hallowed the wave by His presence. He is our Messiah. While the words of the prophecy refer to the house of David, we must apply it to ourselves, because we are the spiritual house of David. Whatever this Messiah has done for first century people, He has done the same for us. The Great Physician still makes house calls. He has to, because we cannot come to Him. He gives the same knowledge of salvation to us that He once gave to the Jews. First he preaches repentance, so that we learn to hate our sins, and to flee to Jesus for help. Then He shows us the Lamb who takes away our sins and makes us holy, righteous servants of God. Today He places Himself within the elements of the Holy Eucharist to be the medicine that heals the sickness of sin.
So what is His fee? The good news is, there is no fee. God gives it all. As Job once said, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away." He said nothing about the Lord buying or selling. He promised this help to our forefathers in the faith - mercies which He had ordained before creation, knowing that man would sin and need to be redeemed. He made a holy covenant to always deliver His people. He swore an oath that through the Seed of Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed. God has never gone back on a promise. All of them find their yea and amen in Jesus. In the fullness of time He kept the old promises, and has made new ones, to deliver us ultimately by returning to gather us to Himself. We can serve Him without fear, because His love casts out fear. We can live in righteousness and holiness because these are His, we partake of them by faith all the days of our life. We are free from our enemies, the devil and his hosts because the Horn of Salvation has died and risen again. The weapon Horn has defeated our enemies, the musical Horn calls us to celebrate, and the container Horn anoints us with the oil of gladness. AMEN.