The Sun Rising on the Way Peace

Christmas service - December 24, 2023

Messenger : Pastor Jim Alison


Luke 1:67-79


“The Sun Rising on the Way of Peace”


              Merry Christmas, everyone with us here at Open Door and online! 


              In the beginning section of Luke’s story of Jesus Christ’s life, there are four sections that we can call songs.  It doesn’t actually say the characters sing, but the words are much like the Psalms (which are songs).  And Christians have written many, many others based on these words.  Can you recall whose hymns these four are?  Of _____, _____, _____, and _____.  (I won’t give you a quiz today.  The correct answers are printed at the end of this message.) 


              These words of Zechariah are called The Benedictus, after the first word of it (“Blessed”) in Latin, as it has been widely quoted in that language for many years.  These words have been sung in Christian worship since the third century.


              By the way, maybe some of us could team up to present a message series some year at Christmas, exploring one song per week during this season.  There’s something to pray and think about.  Let me know if you are interested, OK?


              Today’s reading is a prophecy from Zechariah.  (Different translations spell it Zechariah or Zacharias, and you can hear it pronounced these ways or Zachariah, but I’ll go with Zachariah today.)  He begins by praising God (v. 68) because “He has come and set his people free.”  Who are the people of the God of Israel?  Through the Old Testament times, they were nearly all from one ethnic group and nation—Israel.  But Jesus broadened that out in some important ways so that any person of any background who accepts God’s invitation to live as His son or daughter is welcomed into His great family and made His child. 


              Today this includes some Christians living in Israel.  Most of them are Palestinian, ethnically speaking.  According to the author Joel Rosenberg, though of course most people there are Muslim or Jewish, there are about 35,000 Palestinian and Jewish-background Christians living in the area controlled by Israel.  Counting only what he calls “born-again Christians” with a Jewish background, the number has gone up from 23 in 1948 (when the modern nation of Israel was formed) to around 30,000 now.  Besides these, there are 4,000-5,000 evangelical Arabs.  There are even more Christians in the Palestinian population in Israel as a whole (mainly Greek Orthodox).  That number is estimated to be around 140,000.  These are all “God’s people” in a special way today.


              From v. 69 down through v. 72, Zechariah describes God’s work as something He has already done.  The Lord has (1) acted with great power, (2) saved us, (3) saved us from our enemies, (4) rescued us from all who hate us, (5) been kind to our people, and (6) remembered His holy covenant.  The verbs we read are aorist, showing not continuing but once-and-for-all action.  It’s the spirit of certainty, completed-ness, that comes through in the words Zechariah passes on from God.


              Yet it’s all about the birth of Christ, who hasn’t yet been born.  That’s the thing about prophets.  They’re always messing up their verb tenses, it seems.  I’m an English teacher, and if I were to give Zechariah a grammar test and he wrote like this, I would have to give him a low grade.  But he’s not worried about things like that.  He has something of greater significance in view.  When is he talking about?  That’s often the wrong question to ask about God.  He doesn’t work on our time schedules, and He often doesn’t care about them as much as we do.  So Zechariah is not making a mistake.  He’s talking about how certain it is that God will do what He has said He will.  It’s as good as done already.  That’s how faithful, how reliable, our Lord is.   


              Zechariah says that God has done all this partly because He is faithful to keep the promises He has made in the past to the people He has loved and chosen.  He notes especially Abraham (v. 73) and David (v. 69). 


             As for Abraham, God repeatedly promises to bless him, beginning in Genesis 12.  Finally, in Genesis 22:17-18 when Abraham has been willing to give his only son as a sacrifice, the Lord gives His word:  “. . . I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky. . . .”  He continues, “. . . By your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed - because you obeyed my order.”  Zechariah tells us in v. 74 that God “. . . promised to save us from our enemies.”  He is talking about, for example, another part of that Genesis 22 promise to Abraham (v. 17b), “Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies.” 


              About David, Zechariah says in v. 69b that God is sending the Messiah, the Christ, “for those who are from the family line of his servant David.”  As Sasaki-san mentioned last week, Christ would be born as part of David’s family line.  Jeremiah and others in the whole line of Old Testament prophets (v. 70) write about this coming Messiah.  In 23:6b of his book, he says that when this Savior comes, “Judah will be saved. Israel will live in safety.”  Again, protection from enemies.


              Zechariah is looking back on these promises of God when he announces the good news (v. 71): “He has saved us from our enemies. We are rescued from all who hate us.”  Enemies.  To take just a few examples, the Jewish people were nearly wiped out by Persians in Esther’s story in the Old Testament and Nazis in Germany in the last century.  Now Muslim extremists are trying to destroy them. 


              Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live as “everybody’s buddy” and people with no enemies?  But we know that is not a realistic expectation.  Even Christ, our model for living, had them.  Our God teaches us not to make enemies, to live in peace with all people as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18).  God is the one who judges, so we are better off leaving it to Him to punish people who hurt us rather than trying to do it ourselves (Romans 12:17-21). 


             But we need to know that there will be people who make themselves our enemies.  Especially if we stand up for what is right and speak out against what is wrong, there will be those who don’t like it and will try to stop us.  That’s part of living in a fallen, sinful world.  But it’s not the end of the story.  Even when people oppress or abuse us, God is with us.  He does not forget His people.  He keeps His covenant with us.  If you really believe this, it will help you live with more courage, become a person with greater and greater freedom from fear.


              With this in view, we pray for the safe release of all the roughly 130 hostages who are being held by Hamas in Israel as of recent news reports.  Their freedom has been taken from them by hateful people who are acting as enemies, so we pray that God will save them and bring about their safe release.  We pray that all the other non-combatants, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, will be saved and able to return to their families and friends in peace. 


              Before we continue, let’s recall another reason God sent Christ to save us.  It’s not just so that we will have a nice life.  Verse 74 says it’s “so that we could serve him without fear.”  In other words, we are saved to serve.  We serve God through worship in a “worship service” like this.  But if it’s real worship, it moves us to go out and serve the people around us in Jesus’ name.  Especially now in this Christmas season, the season of giving, who are the people God is leading you to serve?


             That service is a part of your continuing to grow in spiritual maturity throughout your life.  And God (through Zechariah) reminds us that (v. 75) “He wants us to be holy and godly as long as we live.”


              Whether you are young or getting older, God is not finished with you.  As long as you are alive in this world, God wants to keep working with you in the process of remaking you into the person He has always had in His best dreams for you to be.  He may lead you to retire from your job, but He never leads you to retire from being a human being, made in His image, put in this world to show His glory.  There are people who feel more enthusiastic about their faith and serving Him when they are younger, but after growing older become happy to leave church life and their life of faith to the younger folks.  “Let’s just focus on our own needs.”  If you become like that, you are in danger of moving away from God, the very source of your life and strength and hope for the days ahead.  Our Lord wants to walk with you and use you for His great purposes every single day of your life, no matter how long it is.


              When you know that you are free to live without fear, and God is in the process of remaking you into a spiritually mature person, it makes sense to relax and enjoy life.  You can know with a sense of deep assurance, with certainty, that this is going to happen with God’s help.  That’s why celebration is one of the traditional spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith.  We have holidays like Christmas in part to enrich our spiritual life with God.  It helps us to remember the things that are so important that we cannot afford to forget them. 


              God wants us to be righteous and holy people, but we obviously are not, much of the time.  As humans, we have a sin problem.  Zechariah says that Jesus is coming to help us with that.  John will guide people to Jesus so that they can see “how they can be saved” (v. 77).  Through Jesus, we they will learn “that their sins can be forgiven” (v. 77).  That’s what prophets like Jeremiah have been talking about for centuries at the time of Christ when they use names for the coming Messiah such as “The LORD Who Makes Us Right With Himself” (Jeremiah 23:6b).  And that’s the good news of Christmas for you and me, too.  God is here with us and able to save us from our sin.  That’s our greatest reason for rejoicing and celebrating in this special season.


             Zechariah continues with the good news about God (v. 78).  “His kindness will bring the rising sun to us from heaven.”  The original has the word anatole (“rising,” with the sun implied).  Maybe you have heard of a person with that name.  I’ve had students named Asahi before.  This verse ties together the end of the Old Testament with the coming adventures of the New.  It refers to Malachi 4:2a (last chapter of last book in the Old Testament).  “But here is what will happen for you who have respect for me. The sun that brings life will rise. Its rays will bring healing to my people.”

              Recently, I’ve been enjoying seeing some stunning natural beauty in pictures of Diamond Fuji—the sun coming up just over Mt. Fuji’s summit.  The sunrise—isn’t that a beautiful, hope-inspiring image of Christ entering our world?   


              The rising sun from heaven will “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (vv. 78-79).  That is what Jesus’ disciple John is talking about in chapter 1 of his gospel when he introduces Jesus by calling Him “the light for all people” (1:4) and “(t)he true light that gives light to every man” (1:9).  We are here to celebrate again today the good news: “The light shines in the darkness” (1:5).   


             But that is only really good news for us when we know we have been “living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79).  What darkness?  For one, there’s emotional darkness.  You may have had times in your life when you were really feeling down.  The Bible’s God does not teach us that we humans are designed to be in a good mood all the time, or that He expects us to be.  But if living in fear, gloom, resentment, worry, or other negative emotions becomes your version of normal, you are not living as a child of the light, as God wants you to do.  If negative attitudes toward your circumstances and people around you become the defining characteristic of your life from day to day, something is wrong.  Christ came into this world to help you with that.


              There’s also the intellectual darkness of ignorance.  There’s something about learning itself that is godly.  Gaining knowledge about almost anything is basically a God-pleasing act, a step toward Him.  But He especially wants us to have spiritual knowledge.  Our Lord wants to lead you into the light through helping you understand, for example, the meaning, purpose, and goals He has for your life.  That is knowledge that can help you become your best self.


              The last types of darkness to note are moral and spiritual.  They can’t be completely separated from each other.  When we reject the leading of the God of light, we choose to walk a path into darkness.  Helping us to find the way back is at the heart of why Christ was born into this world.


Who are the people living in darkness?  Those in the deepest darkness are often the ones who don’t even notice that it is dark.  Or they may love the darkness more than the light, as Jesus says, because their works are evil.  They are like the people in Psalm 107:17-18 who are in such bad health that they don’t even want to eat food.  If you’ve stopped eating, you are on the way to death, aren’t you.  The people who are lost in the most dangerous ways are the ones who don’t even know they are lost.  This condition is the one a large number of people in the world are in today.  Many don’t think they need a Savior like Jesus.  If they don’t, they may seek a shallower type of joy at Christmas like good food, romance, pretty decorations, or whatever, but miss the deeper joy of knowing Christ as their Savior. 


              Let’s try to be specific about darkness. 


(1) If you think your work is so important that you can’t stand to be interrupted, even by God, you are taking yourself way too seriously, and you are still in the dark. 


(2) If you think some people are bad and others good because of the color of their skin, you are still in darkness. 


(3) If you think it’s OK for you to look down on Jewish or Muslim or whatever people because of their religion or ethnic identity, you are still in darkness. 


(4) If you hear people calling for physical violence against any people group because of who they are and you cannot clearly say that is wrong, you are living in the dark.  And that darkness can lead to much more darkness. 


(5) If you see people killed in acts of terror, war, or crime, no matter what side they are on, and you become unable to see the evil in those actions, you are in the dark.  If you start to think, “Well, they had it coming, so I can’t worry about it” or “My side is winning, so I won’t worry about it,” you are losing a key part of your humanity.  You are in the darkness.  


(6) If you see people taking human life and it stops bothering you because you have seen it so many times, you are losing part of the true humanity that God gave you when He created you.  It may be pre-born human life that people take through abortion.  It may be choices to end human life for one of the constantly growing number of things people now are deciding make life not worth living—physical pain, emotional pain, poverty, loneliness—the list keeps getting longer.  If you can’t see the problem with that, the sun has not yet dawned on you.


              (7) If Christmas comes and goes and you never have an awareness of the wonder and joy that are ours through Christ’s coming into this world to be our Savior and Lord, you are not “walk(ing) in the light, as he is in the light” (I John 1:7).  You may have had that sense of wonder in a keener, more natural way when you were a child, but somehow through “growing up,” you’ve lost a key part of what it means to be human.  You need to recover it.  You need to step out of the darkness and live as a Christian.  That means someone who is going through each day in relationship with Christ—not perfect but aware that, through Christ, the God who saves and lives in you is with you each step of the way.


              Do you notice yourself in any of these descriptions of people living in darkness or the shadow of death?  If so, I have good news for you.  You are the kind of person Jesus came to this world to save.  He’s come to lead us all into the light.  That’s the good news of Christmas.   


             How about living in “the shadow of death”?  That sounds like being near death and at risk of dying, doesn’t it.  You might be in death’s shadow, hiding because danger is near and you are in fear.  You might be in a place where death has approached you or someone you love.  Who else are the people in the shadow of death?


              Psalm 107 presents two situations where people are near death. 


              In one, they are in prison.  In vv. 10-11, it says, “Some of the redeemed had been sitting in darkness and deep gloom; they were prisoners suffering in chains because they had disobeyed God's instructions and rejected the Most High's plans.”  They were being punished.  But God did not give up on them (vv. 14-16). 


             God brought them out from the darkness and deep gloom; he shattered their chains. Let them thank the LORD for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people, because God has shattered bronze doors and split iron bars in two! 


That’s Christmas.


             In another situation, some of God’s people were suffering not because of their enemies but their own foolishness and wickedness.  “They had absolutely no appetite for food; they had arrived at death's gates” (v. 18).  But the good news is that that wasn’t the end of the story.  “So they cried out to the LORD in their distress, and God saved them from their desperate circumstances” (v. 19).  When they did (vv. 20-22), . . :


             God gave the order and healed them; he rescued them from their pit.  Let them thank the LORD for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people. Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy! 


That’s Christmas!


             Finally, in v. 79, we receive the promise of what the Rising Sun, will do.  “It will guide our feet on the path of peace.”  The image seems to be of the journey of life, the path we walk as we go from day to day.  We need to be guided.  We don’t know how to find peace by ourselves.  Just read the newspapers day to day, and this becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it.  If we look closely and honestly at our personal lives, it becomes even clearer. 


              Guide “our feet.”  Not only our feelings, thoughts, and intentions, but what we actually do—where we walk, what we spend our limited time and energy doing.  


             When you welcome Christ into your heart and put Him in control of your life, the change He begins making is like the one the sun makes when it comes up.  Finding and walking the path to real peace—with God, with others, and inside yourself—becomes possible.  If you really believe this, it will help you live as a more peaceful person.  It will also show you the true meaning of Christmas. 


             So let’s pray that the rising sun of Christ will show us the way of peace in each day ahead.


             God, we live in a world of great darkness in many places, both near and far.  Yet thanks to you, we also have your promise: “The people who are now living in darkness will see a great light” (Isaiah 9:2).  Help us to welcome you anew into our hearts and minds every day so that our thoughts, words, and actions will show that you have been born not only long ago in Israel but also in us.  Let the light of your salvation dawn on us, and through us to many others.  Then help us to walk together the path of peace.  This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.





Central Intelligence Agency, The (CIA). (December 6, 2023). West Bank. The World Factbook. Retrieved December 17, 2023 from    factbook/countries/west-bank/#people-and-society and


Rosenberg, J., Patterson, E., Stonestreet, J. (October 21, 2023). Israel and Just War   Theory: Interviews with Joel Rosenberg and Eric Patterson. Retrieved             December 17, 2023 from


Sproul, R. C. (n.d.). The Benedictus. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved December 17, 2023 from



Luke 1 and 2 includes songs of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), the angels (Luke 2:14), and Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).