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Christmas Reflection: Zechariah's Song
+ an "Is it a Christmas Movie?" Lightning Round
There’s a part of the prologue to the Christmas story that caught my attention in a fresh way this year. It comes at the very end of the story of the birth of John the Baptist in Luke chapter 1, after the familiar story of Zechariah being silenced in the temple for not believing the angel Gabriel’s message to him and Elizabeth becoming pregnant then giving birth to a son whom they name John despite it not being a family name (and they say the Bible isn’t relevant!).
Having been silenced from the initial encounter with Gabriel until now, once he’s able to speak Zechariah immediately bursts into song like he’s in a musical or something (was there choreography? tap dancing? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a fun mental picture).
In the first part of the song (v. 68-75), he sings of God sending a mighty Savior who will rescue his people. Then in the second part of the song, he sings about his new son:
76 “And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.”
—Luke 1:76-79 (NLT)
I’ve read this story many times before, but something about this particular translation1 really made verse 78 stand out to me and resonate in a way it never has before.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us
God’s tender mercy is the reason that the morning light of heaven—Jesus—is about to break upon them. That immediacy, that nearness, that imminence of their salvation and of their Savior came across vividly as if for the first time when I read this.
Jesus’ birth is still a few months away in this passage and the Jewish people Zechariah is part of are still living in a world without a Messiah, but Zechariah knows through the inspiration of the Spirit, conversations with Mary, and the miraculous circumstances of his own son John’s birth that the centuries-long wait is about to end. The people who sit in darkness, in the shadow of death, will be guided to the path of peace by the Prince of Peace, their steps illuminated by the morning light from heaven: the Light of the World himself.
We’re similarly just a few days from the season of Advent ending and celebrating the Savior’s birth on Christmas Day, so it’s my wish that the light of the Savior will break upon you, give you light, and guide you in the path of peace this weekend and into the new year
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Lightning Round: Is it a Christmas Movie?
My newsletter detailing 10 Reasons Why The Lord of the Rings is a Christmas Movie was not just my most-read post in the entire history of this newsletter,2 it also generated some questions about whether some other movies are Christmas movies. So let’s do a quick lightning round of a few of those and some others I threw in for fun!
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Yes
Father Christmas bringing gifts, snow, Aslan/Jesus on the move, a December release date for the most recent version…this is a slam dunk.
Star Wars? Not across the board! Only The Empire Strikes Back (snow! the ghost of white-bearded Jedi past! short little pointy-eared character!) and The Force Awakens (sequel trilogy released in December each year! Starkiller Base has snow! and trees! Rey given a gift by another small, elfin creature!) and Return of the Jedi (see below, plus trees on Endor!). The rest of the saga has too much sand, politics, was released in May, etc.
Dune? No. Sand, worms, no elves, who even is Santa in this analogy? where are the gifts? It’s all wrong.
Little Women? Yes. Mr. March comes home for Christmas to do the thing where he says the title of the movie. Case closed.
The Mandalorian? Maybe? No, not really, but with just a few slight changes…
The Holiday? Nope! First of all, the title is referring to the vacation the two characters take by swapping houses, not a particular holiday, much less Christmas. It’s a pun on the holiday season, sure, but the plot of the movie has almost nothing to do with Christmas itself. It actually ends on New Years Eve, so it is more properly a sparkling holiday movie (it’s not from the Christmas region of France, after all) than a Christmas movie.
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How to Celebrate Christmas Like a Hobbit — TeawithTolkien shares some wonderful thoughts on how to celebrate this time of year with the heart of a Hobbit.
If we are to live this Christmas season like a Hobbit, we should strive to cherish this season of tender joy by slowing down and spending time with loved ones, quieting our hearts and minds from distractions and instead steeping ourselves in the goodness that surrounds us. Seek out what is wholesome and beautiful in your life and rest in it. But at the same time, we cannot forget that the path to holiness is one of sacrifice and discomfort. Much like Tolkien’s Hobbits, we must hold fast to our courage and step out onto the road ahead of us to meet whatever may lie ahead.
There Is No Mary Problem in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — excellent observations on the role of Mary that will have you viewing a perennial classic with new eyes
It’s a Wonderful Life is, in part, the story of someone becoming, kicking and screaming, against all intentions and desires, a big man. Mary sees the big man in George from the first, because she is a big woman.
The Most Popular Jokien with Tolkien posts of 2022
One last thing to leave you with: I only just began this newsletter a little over a month ago, but here are the most popular Jokien with Tolkien posts of 2022. Thank you all for reading and supporting me as I’ve begun this new endeavor! Further up and further in!
That’s all for today, friends. I plan to have a short essay hitting your inboxes next week, but until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
I normally read the CSB or ESV, but was reading in the NLT this time through
i.e. in a little over a month