Few Christians today would deny the fact that a churchgoer is far more likely to hear a sermon on the first two chapters of Luke during the holidays than on Easter. Rightfully so. After all, the infancy narrative in the Gospel of Luke provides the church with some of the most detailed accounts of Christ’s birth and childhood in the Scriptures. However, it’s also important to remember that the Holy Spirit authored these two chapters for reasons far beyond simply providing a good Christmas service. Luke also points us to the essence of Christian worship in these chapters, and we can begin to discover Lukan doxology by taking note of the biblical language he employed to describe it.
Language is important in the church. For example, whether in prayer or in corporate worship, many Christians often admit that they simply don’t know what to say when speaking to God or of God. Thankfully, Luke provides support for the word-conscious Christian by recording different biblical characters, each ascribing glory to God in different ways with different words. As a church with the received revelation from God, their language now becomes our language.
- Magnify the Lord. Luke 1:46. After being told by the angel Gabriel that she would conceive the Messiah by the Holy Spirit, Mary offers a song of praise that the church has historically called “The Magnificat.” The name of the song comes from the Latinized form of “magnify,” the very word that Mary uses in response to the good news from God. Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (1:46-47) Other versions translate the word Μεγαλυνει as “exalt” or “make great.” It means to glorify, to magnify, or to speak highly of. It can also mean to cause to be large, not in the sense that sinners can enlarge the greatness of God, but that they can make His name great by esteeming it and acclaiming it.
- Blessed Be the Lord. Luke 1:68. After his wife Elizabeth gave birth to his son John, and after remaining mute for nine months, Zechariah the priest had his “tongue loosed” in order to utter praise to God. (1:64) Being filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied and immediately exclaimed, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” (1:68) The verb Luke employs here is ευλογητος (ευλογεω), meaning to say something commendatory, to speak well of, praise, or extol. This word “blessed” does not mean that Zechariah or any believer adds extra blessing to God as if He were completed or his worth heightened. As an infinitely perfect and great King, this blessing is not of the same kind as the word “blessed” (μακαριοι) featured in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-11). He is of Himself worthy to be commended and extoled, and our worship is due Him.
- Glory to God. Luke 2:14. After delivering the message of Jesus’s birth to shepherds in the field, a multitude of angels are recorded “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’” (2:14) The angelic word here is δοξα, and it is absolutely pregnant with worshipful meaning. The basic idea is glory; it’s where we receive the word “doxology.” When we sing this famous hymn (which begins with “Praise God”), we are literally ascribing glory to Him. However, the word can also denote brightness, splendor, radiance, fame, greatness, magnificence, fame, honor, prestige, etc. The literal meaning is often “weight,” (from the Hebrew kabowd) reflecting the fullness of God’s brilliance. Worship is ascribing glory to God; therefore glory should be integral to our vocabulary.
- Glorifying and Praising God. Luke 2:20. After visiting the infant Christ in the manger, the shepherds return to their fields “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (2:20) The Greek participles here are “δοξαζοντες και αινουντες.” Similar to Luke 2:14, these two words act as near-synonyms. The primary idea behind the second verb, αινεω, is to express intense approval. Similar derivatives of the word can even denote sacrifice of praise or proclaiming praise. Very seldom is this word used without an accompanying action. Praise moves us to practical worship. The shepherds came home from witnessing the glory of God and continued announcing the Messiah. The church has the very same commission today.
- Marveling at God. Luke 2:33. When young Jesus is presented at the temple, a man by the name of Simeon, who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Christ. Upon finally seeing Jesus, Scripture says that he “blessed God” by ascribing great things to Jesus (vv. 28-32). Scripture records that Joseph and Mary then “marveled” at what Simeon had to say. Some translations also render the participle θαυμαζοντες as “amazed.” The verb θαυμαζω means to be extraordinarily impressed by something, to be astonished, or in a state of wonder. This is worship: to be in awe and astonishment at the King of Kings. For those who struggle with articulating their worship, it is often times sufficient to simply describe our speechlessness in the presence of God.
- Amazed at God. Luke 2:47. After losing their son for three days (how does somebody lose the Son of God?), Joseph and Mary finally find Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (2:46) Scripture then says, “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (v.47) The word Luke uses here is the 3rd person plural imperfect middle indicative of the verb εξιστημι: εξισταντο. It describes a state of astonishment, mingled with a sense of fear, usually by something miraculous or otherwise extraordinary. This is Christian worship. We continually stand amazed at our God, not simply for his intelligence and omniscience, but for His goodness and His greatness as well.
In a modern church culture of innocuous sermons and ambiguous songs designed to domesticate God and hide the more “offensive” parts of the Bible like wrath, judgment, holiness, sacrifice, etc., Christians must seek out the person and work of Christ by going directly to the language of His Word. Only then can we even understand how to worship. The first two chapters in Luke do more than paint a picture of the Gospel narrative and the infancy of Jesus; they also help us in articulating our worship. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, shepherds, and angels can thus serve as our example in doxology. Indeed they should. The very same Spirit that inspired the Bible also inspires our worship; therefore the language from our mouths should be modeled after that of the Spirit-breathed Scriptures.