I have this moment each year while preparing the Advent series when I am overwhelmed with amazement at how inexhaustible this story is. The songs that have been sung, the books and short stories that have been written and the endless sermons that have been preached; thousands upon thousands and thousands more, and yet there is always more to discover. I want to share one of those discoveries around this theme: The Christmas Horn.
This discovery is found in the song of Zechariah following his nine months of imposed silence. We need to understand that not only was Zechariah unable to speak for those nine months, but according to LK.1:62, he was also deaf and unable to hear. Why else would the record state: ‘And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called.’
This discipline of imposed silence was not without purpose. His silence may have been a divine rebuke for his unbelief, but God always turns His rebukes into rewards for those who keep faith.God’s rebuke is not about punishment but about discipline and His discipline is always redemptive and restorative in nature. Nine months of silence meant nine months of hearing the voice of God free of static and interfering noise. I would suggest that this silence was golden. And in this crazy world of unrelenting noise we need to understand the place of silence in our spiritual development – the role it plays when it comes to hearing the voice of God.
And then came that incredible moment when John, in the obedience of his faith, wrote these words on a tablet: "His name is John." And immediately his tongue was loosed and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people, And has raised up a horn of salvationfor us In the house of David his servant-- As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old-- That we should be saved from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, And to remember his holy covenant, The oath which he swore to our father Abraham, To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, To give knowledge of salvation to his people In the forgiveness of their sins, Through the tender mercies of our God, By which the day shall dawn upon us from on high To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.
When Zechariah emerged from the discipline of his silence he did so filled with the Holy Spirit and singing what has come to be known as the Benedictus, a song filled with insight and with a sense of the stupendous significance of what was about to happen with the birth of Jesus. So while we ponder how we will seek some silence for ourselves, let us learn from what the Holy Spirit taught Zechariah.
The first thing to note is that most of Zechariah's song is taken up not with his own son but with the coming Messiah and the salvation he would bring. Only two verses (76 & 77) refer to John the Baptist. The rest of the Benedictus is about what the coming of Jesus is going to mean.
Here is how he begins his song in verse 68, "The Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed his people." Then in verse 69 he tells us how this visitation and redemption will happen, "God has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant, David." Jesus is the horn of salvation.
I have never before considered this image of Christmas – Jesus the horn of salvation.We need to know the meaning of the imagery and I can tell you it is not a musical instrument. This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is called a horn, so we must go back to the Old Testament. It is highly likely that Zechariah was familiar with this image based on those same Old TestamentScriptures.
Psalm 92:9 - 10 gives us a picture of what the horn stood for: For, behold, Your enemies, O Lord; For, behold, Your enemies will perish; all who do iniquity will be scattered. But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil.
In Micah 4:13 God says to Jerusalem, “Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion, for your horn I will make iron, and your hoofs I will make bronze, that you may pulverise many peoples...”
This image of the horn of the wild oxspeaks of a deadly weapon whose strength cannot be matched; it speaks of uncompromised victory. We are not talking, ‘Little boy Blue come blow your horn’, here.
Verse 70tells us that the coming of this horn of salvationwas prophesied of old. Consider Psalm 132:17, where God says concerning Jerusalem, “There I will cause the horn of David to spring forth; I have prepared a lamp for Mine anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown shall shine.”
In 2 Samuel 22:3 and in Psalm 18:2, we find the words of David after God saved him from his enemy Saul. He says, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
And that brings us back to Luke 1:69. Jesus is the horn of salvation, which means according to verse 71, God uses Him to save his people from their enemies and all who hate them. And by the way, this reaches well beyond the idea of personal salvation and has reference to the literal destruction of God’s enemies.
Verses 74 &75 reveal the outcome of the raising up this Christmas horn – this mighty horn of salvation. And here it is: "grant that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life." Please note two things: First we are going to be delivered from bondage to our enemy, and second this is going to result in our fearlessly living a life of holiness and righteousness. Notice that we are not merely delivered from the enemy himself but from all fear of the enemy – and that is a vital truth.
The two fundamental spoilers of life are fear and guilt. Fear is rooted in Satan himself, while guilt is rooted in the sin issue. And so we read concerning Christ: ‘...that by going through death as a man he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil...’(Heb.2:14)That takes care of our enemy and the fear issue. And the following takes care of the guilt issue related to sin: Heb.9:26...He has been manifested to put away sin (to take it out of the way) by the sacrifice of Himself.
Little wonder Zechariah sang: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed his people by raising up a horn of salvation for us . . . that we, being delivered from our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life."
The scripture makes it clear that the image of the horn speaks of government, of rulership, of kingdom; it speaks of great strength and power. The prophet told us that the government would be upon His shoulders and that of the increase of His kingdom there would be no end.
So I leave you with this image –this picture of Christmas we may have never seen before: the image of a wild ox crowned with a fearful display of horns the span of which strikes fear in the heart of his enemies. There he stands in the unchallenged strength of his being, knowing that he has fought and won every battle and that his victory is eternal.